The Los Angeles Rams play a must-win game against the Cleveland Browns in Week 13. Their playoff chances drop from 44 percent to 28 percent with a loss, but rise above 50 percent with a win. A third consecutive victory would put the Rams back at .500 as they enter the final stretch of the season. Here are five keys to victory against the Browns.
1. Continue With Creativity in the Run Game
The Rams run game has been extremely creative this season and they’ll need to continue with that creativity against the Browns. Earlier in the season, Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards averaged just 3.2 yards per carry in a 28-3 win over the Browns. However, offensive coordinator Todd Monken started the game by taking advantage of the Browns aggressiveness on defense with traps and wham block. This allowed them to eventually get to duo.
Sean McVay has incorporated a lot of duo into the Rams run game and it will be critical that they are able to get to it and attack the Browns defense directly. With Jim Schwartz, the Browns will utilize a lot of the Wide 9 alignment which makes running outside very difficult. Don’t be surprised if McVay steals from Monken and utilizes “wham” blocks in the run game, especially with tight ends and wide receivers to create some confusion. The more chaos that the Rams can create with motion, they can force the Browns defense to think and play a step slower.
2. Force Joe Flacco to Win With His Arm
This is a game that’s going to have to be won in the trenches. There’s little doubt that the Browns will be looking to run with Jerome Ford behind Wyatt Teller and try to win an ugly football game.
Flacco will be getting the start for the Browns, but hasn’t thrown a pass since Week 18 of last season. The New York Jets lost that game 11-6 as Flacco completed just 18-of-33 passes. There’s going to be some rust from Flacco especially on a new team. Kevin Stefanski will keep things simple, but will look to take as much off of Flacco’s plate as possible.
3. Win the Turnover Battle
Matthew Stafford is going to need to protect the football against the Browns while the Rams defense creates opportunities. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Rams kept them in it and paid the price by losing the fourth quarter. That started with essentially a Stafford pick-six to begin the second half. The Browns defense will be opportunistic to try and create chances for their offense. It’s critical that the Rams don’t fall into that trap.
At the same time, the Browns defense is one of the hardest units to get a first down against. They allow just 12.9 first downs per game which is nearly five fewer than any other team. If the Rams defense can shorten the field with a turnover, that will significantly help the offense so that they don’t have to drive 70 yards every possession against a stingy unit.
4. Attack the Browns Linebackers in the Passing Game
The Browns defense is very good, but there are ways to attack them. One of those ways is with a running back or tight end matched up against a linebacker. This season, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah has allowed 19 receptions on 21 targets and a passer rating of 121.8 which is the sixth-highest in the NFL. He’s only forced one incompletion in coverage while allowing a reception on 90.5 percent of his targets.
This isn’t to say that JOK is bad in coverage, but he can certainly be exploited in spots. The Rams are coming off of a game in which Tyler Higbee had two touchdowns and Kyren Williams caught six passes. McVay could look to take advantage of an aggressive Browns defense with running back and tight end screens. However, there may also be some opportunity to target Williams downfield.
5. Learn From Past Mistakes
In their other two matchups against AFC North opponents, the Rams are 0-2 with losses to the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers. Both games were low-scoring and ugly. The matchup against the Browns will be no different. That’s simply how football is played in the AFC North.
The Rams need to show that they’ve learned from those games and that they are capable of winning with things get ugly. Can they stick with a run game? Are they ok playing field position or going for it on fourth and short instead of settling for long field goals? Can they avoid making mistakes to keep the lesser team in it? These are questions that the Rams have to answer and things that they failed to do against the Bengals and Steelers.