The Cleveland Browns will be playing in front of their home fans today to take on the St. Louis Rams. Cleveland hopes to build off the positives they had last week offensively, as they saw their first-stringers basically put up 21 points on the board against the Green Bay Packers.
Meanwhile, the Rams are trying to rebound from a 28-7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in a game where they really didn't look too impressive. That was a Vikings team without Brett Favre under center either.
Here are some notes and things to look for in tonight's game against the Rams...
- The Rams' offense was terrible against the Vikings last week. In total net yards, they were outgained by the Vikings 414 yards to 150 yards. If that doesn't get St. Louis fans to turn off their television sets as soon as possible, then I don't know what will. The Rams would have been shut out had they not returned a punt 93 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter.
- I knew the Rams had Sam Bradford and I knew he wasn't supposed to start this season, but I couldn't recall who they brought in to replace Marc Bulger. It turns out that they brought in veteran A.J. Feeley. It's been a mixed bag career for Feeley, but overall he's shown to be a serviceable backup but not a reliable starter. Nonetheless, he'll be the player under center against the Browns' defense for a good portion of the first half.
- The media is promoting this game as the one that'll feature Sam Bradford vs. Colt McCoy, but don't expect them to be in the game at the same time. Like the Browns, the Rams featured four quarterbacks last week. Since McCoy got more playing time than Brett Ratliff last week, the two are probably going to swap spots this week on the depth chart. Unless Bradford plays into the fourth quarter, he and McCoy will have to be evaluated separately.
- I'd like to get a look at all of the Browns starters in action, but it wouldn't surprise me if guys like Mohamed Massaquoi, John St. Clair, Tony Pashos, and a few others are inactive for the sake of being cautious. The third preseason game is still considered the most important, so Mangini might wait until then to play everyone.
- Although Steven Jackson should be good-to-go for the regular season, he might not play against the Browns tonight. The Rams already rested him in their first preseason game after Jackson had surgery on a herniated disk in the preseason. If Jackson doesn't play, the Browns' first-string unit on defense should not have any issues stopping the Rams' backs, Kenneth Darby and Chris Ogbonnaya. The Rams' depth behind Jackson is probably among the worst in the NFL.
- The Rams' offensive line was a major reason the team went 1-15 last year. The team features some youth at several positions, including Rodger Saffold at left tackle (No. 33 overall in 2010) and Jason Smith at right tackle (No. 2 overall in 2009), but it's still a group that our pass rushers should have some more success against than we did against the Rams. Last week, Rams quarterbacks were sacked six times, including four sacks against Bradford. Former Brown Hank Fraley should be the team's backup center on the second unit.
- Enough about the Rams. The Browns' first-teamers are scheduled to play most of the first half, according to head coach Eric Mangini. Mangini says that backup quarterback Seneca Wallace will also get some work with the first-team offense though. My prediction is that Delhomme will work the first quarter and one series in the second quarter, with Wallace coming in after that.
- I think we'll also see the debut of the Cyclone formation today against the Rams since the first-string offense will have more time on the field together. It probably won't be anything too flashy -- maybe a direct handoff to Joshua Cribbs -- but I think the coaching staff will want a little bit of footage on how other teams react to how certain players line up.
- I expect to see Eric Wright in the starting lineup tonight after missing last week's contest. The Rams aren't exactly deep at the receiver position, but I'd still like to see how Wright performs as the nickelback when those situations come up.
- Fans have to be anxiously awaiting an encore from rookie safety T.J. Ward. He made some great plays last week, but he's made it known that he needs to focus on wrapping up better at times (see the touchdown by John Kuhn last week.
- I was watching the Bengals' defense in awe last night, as they consistently brought only five players and were able to get in the face of the Eagles' quarterbacks almost every snap. I'd be encouraging to see the defensive line get a better push on passing downs this week, just to see if our pressure last week was only negated thanks to how good the Packers are.
- I'll be glued to who Mangini announces as the starting four linebackers today. We heard about Marcus Benard (OLB) and Scott Fujita (ILB) being part of the changes on the line in practice. I'd like to get a look at Benard against the first-stringers, since we know he does pretty darn well against the second- and third-stringers.
- Punter Reggie Hodges knows that he has the starting role now, so consistency will be the key. We can't expect him to be anywhere close to a Pro Bowler, but he also can't be averaging one shanked punt per game. If the Browns' offense is better this year, he might get some more opportunities to pin teams back inside the 10-yard line, something I have a feeling he's actually not too bad at doing (with some help from our coverage team).
- We're still waiting for one of the Browns' receivers after the first four (Massaquoi, Robiskie, Stuckey, Cribbs) to shine. I'm still holding out hope that Bobby Engram will claim that role, but if the team is looking for upside in their youth then it is between Syndric Steptoe, Carlton Mitchell, Jake Allen, and newcomer Taurus Johnson. We haven't had much exposure to Johnson, so if he suddenly has a dominant game when McCoy plays with him, perhaps he could end up being a dark horse.
- It could get ugly on the right side of the offensive line, but Mangini has not ruled out the possibility of John St. Clair, Tony Pashos, and Shawn Lauvao playing. Lauvao wasn't injured; he reportedly went to Hawaii to tend to personal issues. Pashos and St. Clair were a little banged up, but St. Clair returned to practice Thursday. If none of the three players can go, we'll see Billy Yates at right guard and Scott Kooistra at right tackle. Kooistra served as a right tackle for the Bengals for seven years. Either way, the right side will have their hands full with the Rams' Chris Long.
- Playing at home against a team that was 1-15 last year and struggled in their first preseason game should mean that the Browns are well-favored to win this game. I know anything can happen in the preseason, but if the Rams' first-string unit is not very talented, then it's hard to believe their second- and third-stringers are very talented either. I'm expecting this to be another confidence booster for Cleveland, although it'll be hard to replicate how efficient we were offensively early on last week.
- Turf Show Times, our Rams affiliates, has a couple of primers up on the game:
Preseason Game 2 @ Cleveland, Position Comparison
Rams vs. Cleveland: What to watch, who to watch, and other thoughts
Feel free to share your own notes on what you're looking for in tonight's game. For your information, the official game thread will go live at 4:30 p.m EST, three hours before the game begins at 7:30 p.m. EST.