Browns v. Los Angeles Rams
Sunday, 8:20 p.m. in FirstEnergy Stadium
Last game: Defeated New Orleans Saints, 27-9, Sept. 15, in L.A. Coliseum.
Coach: Sean McVay, 28-10, third year.
Series record: Rams lead, 12-11 (counting postseason).
Last meeting: Rams won, 24-6, Oct. 25, 2015, in St. Louis.
League rankings: Offense is 13th overall (seventh rushing, 21st passing), defense is fifth overall (ninth rushing, seventh passing) and turnover differential is plus-2.
Things I think
The defending NFC champions are set up to compete for Super Bowls over the next five years. In the last 15 months, the Rams have tied up nucleus stars defensive tackle Aaron Donald, quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley and wide receiver Brandin Cooks with contracts totaling over $407.5 million in maximum value with over $207 million guaranteed. This may be the template followed by the Browns in the near future. The Rams have one of the NFL’s wealthiest owners in Stan Kroenke and are scheduled to open their new $5 billion stadium in 2020. SoFi Stadium – christened in a naming rights deal reportedly bringing in $400 million to Kroenke’s empire over 20 years – will host the Super Bowl in February, 2022. The Rams are living the life.
Besides some shuffling on their offensive line, the changes in the Rams’ offense from the end of last year are these: McVay is managing Gurley’s arthritic knees by giving more reps to Malcolm Brown, and slot receiver Cooper Kupp has returned to form after midseason ACL surgery last year. Gurley is averaging 15 rushing attempts and 80 yards, but has been virtually eliminated as a receiving threat. Kupp is a key player in the offense, Goff’s most trusted chains-mover. Kupp leads the Rams with 12 receptions for 166 yards even though Cooks and Robert Woods are more explosive big-play threats.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the league’s two-time defensive player-of-the-year, which is the award coveted by Browns defensive end Myles Garrett. Donald was recognized last year by NFL Network as the No. 1 player in the league. The year before he was ranked No. 7 in the league network’s player poll. Donald led the NFL last year with 20.5 sacks – a rare number for an interior lineman. Pre-occupation with Donald makes life a lot easier for rush linebackers Clay Matthews III (two sacks) and Dante Fowler (two).
The special teams of coordinator John Fassel are exceptional. Kicker Greg Zuerlein, punter/holder Johnny Hekker and long snapper Jake McQuaide have been together since 2013, and each has made at least one Pro Bowl. Hekker is an athlete who also can place-kick in a pinch and, as a former quarterback, is always a threat to execute a fake punt. In his career, Hekker has thrown 20 times out of the punt formation, completing 12 for 168 yards and one TD for a passer rating of 103.8.
Did you know … ?
When Sean McVay replaced Jeff Fisher as coach in 2017, the Rams immediately went from last to first in the NFL in scoring. Since the start of 2017 under McVay, the Rams have averaged a league-best 31.2 points per game.
Generations of Browns fan might not realize the Rams were originally the Cleveland Rams. They preceded the Browns in Cleveland, starting up in 1937. In 1945, the Cleveland Rams won the NFL Championship – and then bolted to Los Angeles. Owner Dan Reeves saw gold in them thar hills and did not want to compete with Ohio coaching legend Paul Brown and his new team in the upstart All-America Football Conference. After dominating the AAFC with four championships in four years, the Browns were absorbed into the NFL in 1950. The Browns promptly played the Rams in the NFL Championship in their first season – and beat them, 30-28. The Browns then lost to the Rams in a rematch in 1951 and beat them in 1955. The Browns won three NFL titles in their first six years.
McVay is 8-0 as Rams coach against AFC opponents. In 2017, he swept the AFC South division and in 2018 he swept the AFC West. The Rams have outscored AFC opponents by an average score of 34-20.
Small world: Linebacker Clay Matthews III is the son of Browns legend Clay Matthews Jr., who will be inducted in the Browns’ Ring of Honor on Sunday … Assistant offensive line coach Andy Dickerson was a Browns assistant coach in 2009-10 …