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Rams vs. Browns: NFL Week 3 Preview and Prediction

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The Browns will test their prime time luck for the second week in a row.

Cleveland Browns at St. Louis Rams Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

This Sunday night, the Cleveland Browns take on the Los Angeles Rams in Week 3 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.


Position-by-Position Evaluation


Quarterback

  • Last year, Jared Goff averaged 293 yards passing and two touchdowns per game. Through two weeks of action in 2019, Goff is averaging 234 yards passing and 1 touchdown per game. It’s a very small sample size to go off of, but he has gotten off to a bit of a slow start despite the team beginning the year at 2-0. Nonetheless, the Rams get the edge at quarterback due to the former first overall pick’s proven production as a top-level quarterback in Sean McVay’s offense.
  • There is so much for Baker Mayfield to work on in Week 3, but I know he is smart enough to see on tape what is wrong and make those adjustments to get back to the player he was a year ago. The question is, “How quickly will that switch be flipped, and when?” Will it be this week against the Rams? Only time will tell. The main things I need to see are him not throwing off his back foot, and checking the ball down more often/not holding the ball as long. It is fantastic when he can extend plays and look for yards in chunks, but that becomes more of a detriment than an asset when he’s trying to go long on every play.

Running Back

  • Todd Gurley is the Rams’ starting running back, and the heavy load that he’s been carrying in his young career caught up to his knee at the end of 2018, when he barely played in the postseason. To start the 2019 season, Gurley is back to being the team’s starting running back, but as our Rams affiliate points out, the team will have a much better “load management” plan with him. In other words, backup Malcolm Brown, who joined the team in 2015 as an undrafted free agent, will get a fair amount of reps.
  • Through two games, the plan has worked well for the Rams. Gurley has 30 carries for 160 yards (5.3 YPC) and 1 touchdown; his reception numbers are way down, as he only has 4 catches for 8 yards. Brown has 17 carries for 90 yards (5.3 YPC) and 2 touchdowns. Despite Gurley’s low receiving totals, don’t be fooled. We’re talking about a guy who, in 2017, caught 64 passes for 788 yards and 6 touchdowns.
  • Running the ball hasn’t been too big of an issue for Cleveland. Through two games, Nick Chubb has 35 carries for 137 yards (3.9 YPC) and 1 touchdown. If the team can get Chubb into that 4.0+ range, it will help -- but the bigger key is sustaining drives some more so that Chubb can get a few more carries. The team has been removing him on most third downs, which is OK at times, but not so much on others — he is a solid third-down option and should be in on some of those plays, while it is OK for the backup to spell him whenever he needs a rest.
  • Throwing to the running backs remains a key part of the offense. Through two games, Chubb, D’Ernest Johnson, and Dontrell Hilliard have combined for 13 catches for 125 yards. Hilliard returns from a concussion this week; he was supposed to be a valued part of the Week 1 gameplan before he went out, so maybe the team has some playcalls up their sleeve for him as a receiver.

Wide Receiver / Tight End

  • The Rams’ top three receivers are Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp. Woods and Cooks were a great tandem in 2018, with each of them having over 1,200 yards receiving. Kupp only played in half of the games due to injury, but would have been on pace for a 1,000-yard season. The Rams use 11 personnel on over 90+ of their snaps, and with the Browns possibly being thin at cornerback, it’s a match-up they will surely try to exploit.
  • Tyler Higbee, the Rams’ starting tight end, is out Sunday with a chest injury. Taking his place is Gerald Everett, a second-round pick from 2017. Everett started 2 games as a rookie, but has otherwise been a backup. He is a capable receiver, but with the Rams’ trio of receivers and Gurley, he’s not expected to receive a high volume of targets.
  • We are two games in to seeing Baker Mayfield to Odell Beckham, and the star receiver already has 13 catches for 232 yards and 1 touchdown -- including two highlight-reel plays from a week ago. Even despite the fact that the offense is trying to find itself, Beckham’s pure talent overcomes that. Cleveland gets a big return this week with Rashard Higgins set to resume his role in the slot. I have preached about how he is Mayfield’s security blanket, although he is going up against a tough match-up himself.
  • David Njoku landed on IR this week with a broken wrist, and it’s kind of a sad state of affairs when you look at the rest of the Browns’ tight ends (from a receiving standpoint). Sure, some of them can do some damage with their height in goal-to-go situations, but I don’t trust their hands or ability to hang onto the ball after a hit anywhere else. Cleveland could decide to make the decision to start Ricky Seals-Jones, who caught 34 passes for 343 yards for the Cardinals last year. He offers the most from a receiving perspective, but hasn’t had much time to work with Cleveland’s offense.

Offensive Line

  • The Rams’ starting offensive line includes LT Andrew Whitworth, LG Joe Boteboom, C Brian Allen, RG Austin Blythe, and RT Rob Havenstein. The veteran Whitworth could be playing in his final season, but he’s still playing at a high level — it’ll be fun to see Myles Garrett get a crack at him. Overall, the Rams’ tackles are the team’s strengths, and overall, the line doesn’t have a glaring hole. Noteboom and Allen are new to the starting lineup in 2019, so our Rams affiliate noted that while they’ve been fine, it’s only two games so perhaps some cracks will show more as the season goes along.
  • Give credit to the Browns’ offensive line, which played very well against the Jets and have been getting exceptional play from the interior linemen to begin the year. The Week 1 struggles were a concern, but perhaps a bit over-exaggerated due to the whole Greg Robinson situation that unfolded. This week, the team faces another challenge in trying to replace Chris Hubbard at right tackle, who is probably out with a foot injury. Justin McCray will start in his place.

Defensive Line / Linebacker

  • The Rams run a 3-4 defense. Their starting defensive line includes DE Michael Brockers, NT Sebastian Joseph-Day, and DT Aaron Donald. There is no doubt about Donald’s talent; he has been the NFL’s defensive player of the year for two straight years, and had 20.5 sacks in 2018! He has been held without a sack through two games this year, and is currently dealing with a back injury that has him questionable for Sunday’s game. I expect him to play, and in no way, shape, or form should he be underestimated.
  • Myles Garrett has been a man on a mission for the Browns, registering five sacks in two games. It was really last week’s performance that stood out for Garrett, as he had three sacks, plus two roughing the passer penalties. As stated previously, those penalties are not smart decisions by Garrett — but I like the fact that he’s still in position to rush passes. The rest of the defensive line showed more discipline last week, but it would be great to see Olivier Vernon get on the sack sheet for the first time as a Brown.
  • The Rams’ starting linebackers include WILL Dante Fowler, OLB Clay Matthews, ILB Cory Littleton, and ILB Bryce Hager. Littleton currently ranks as the No. 8 defensive player in the NFL, per PFF, through two weeks, and was praised by our Rams affiliate for his start to the year. After spending his whole career with the Packers, Matthews has joined the Rams and logged a sack in each of the first two games. Fowler is among the league leaders in pressures through two games.
  • Joe Schobert has been playing at a high level, but the big question this week is who starts alongside him now that Christian Kirksey is on IR? The leading candidate figures to be rookie Mack Wilson, but that’s a pretty big surge to go from no playing time at all, to (possibly) playing 100% of the snaps on defense. Overall, the collective reason why the Rams don’t get the edge this week for the front seven is that for as good of a pass rush as they present, their run defense can be exploited — and I like Garrett and Donald to nearly cancel each other out.

Secondary

  • The Rams’ two starting cornerbacks are Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, with Nickell Robey-Coleman covering the slot. While Peters had several bad games in 2018, the entire unit is off to a strong start in 2019. Robey-Coleman gave credit to Beckham and Landry this week, acknowledging that those guys are bound to make great catches.

“They’re going to do something irregular things that we don’t traditionally see in a regular receiver. So knowing that, it helps us be on top of the details a little bit more and fight for four quarters, because those type of guys, it only takes one play for them to go off.”

  • Los Angeles’ starting safeties are Eric Weddle and John Johnson III. The Browns just can’t seem to escape facing Weddle, who spent the past three years with Baltimore. Joining the group of safeties this year is rookie Taylor Rapp, who has been playing about half of the team’s snaps. Here is what our Rams affiliate said about him:

“If Week 2 was any indication, Rapp’s got something of an overhang-type role that should allow him to play closer to the line and work zone spacing similar to the rover role the New England Patriots have for Patrick Chung.”

  • Cleveland’s secondary is in disarray, as I write this post. Only Damarious Randall has officially been ruled out, but veteran safety Morgan Burnett did not practice all week with a quad injury and figures to be out. Then, both starting cornerbacks, Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams, did not practice Thursday or Friday due to hamstring injuries. They will test their hamstrings Sunday morning, to see if they’ll give it a shot Sunday night. If they can’t play, we will be looking at a starting secondary of Terrance Mitchell, T.J. Carrie, Eric Murray, and Jermaine Whitehead.

Special Teams

  • Greg Zuerlein is the Rams’ kicker. Besides one bad year in 2015, Zuerlein has been fantastic for the Rams. This year, he is 5-of-6 on field goals and hasn’t missed on six extra point tries. His leg allows him to hit from 55-61 yards, if needed. For the Browns, Austin Seibert was impressive last week, as the national spotlight did not phase him when he went 3-of-3 on field goals.
  • Johnny Hekker is the Rams’ punter and is a four-time Pro Bowler. He had a punt blocked in Week 1, which was only the second time that’s happened in his career. Hekker is also prone to throwing the ball out of fakes; he was 2-of-4 for 19 yards last year. Jamie Gillan was the special teams player of the Week for Week 2, due to the number of punts he pinned inside the 20.
  • JoJo Natson is the Rams’ kick and punt returner. Dontrell Hilliard figures to resume his return duties for Cleveland this week, although I could see Jarvis Landry holding on to the punt return role.

Predictions

Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.


Chris Pokorny: “The Rams are the defending NFC Champions, Cleveland’s secondary could very well be a makeshift unit. I know the Browns’ offense will get better, but I don’t know if this is the week for that, with Aaron Donald bound to cause some disruption, especially with another change up front for Cleveland. Cleveland’s talented weapons in Beckham and Landry inspire hope that the offense can make magic happen despite all of the injuries, but the Rams look more like the sure bet here.” Rams 27, Browns 20.


Matt Wood: “Browns have played poorly and find themselves at 1-1. I think the offense will get on track and we saw the defense finally get going up front. I think Goff struggles on the road and the Browns rise Chubb early in this one to get in track early. Baker and Odell hook up again late to pull away.” Browns 27, Rams 21.


Mike Hoag: “The Rams defend well what the Browns want to do offensively. Although they haven’t been able to commit to running the ball, I think the Browns will get that going to keep this close. But their depleted defense unfortunately won’t be able to keep the Rams from scoring more points than their offense.” Rams 26, Browns 16.


Tom Moore: “Browns are going to be without starters David Njoku and Christian Kirksey. Might be without Damarious Randall, Morgan Burnett and Chris Hubbard. (Wait, that last one could be a plus in their favor!) Soft tissue injuries are running through the team like the plague. And Aaron Donald, the most-feared quarterback destroyer in the league, and Sean McVay, who has never lost to an AFC team in the regular season as head coach of the Rams, are coming to town. Time to set the city on fire and shock the world. ” Browns 31, Rams 10.


Jon Stinchcomb: “This upcoming stretch will probably be as tough as advertised, but every game is winnable. Embrace the renewed underdog role and surprise everyone again. Like last week, I’m inviting the Browns to prove me wrong here.” Rams 35, Browns 20.


Ezweav: “We’re doomed. Fortunately we were able to slap around a team missing it’s starting QB and defensive captain last week but we’ll not be so lucky this Sunday. Put simply we are a young team trying to figure some things out, and the Yams are a bonafide powerhouse trying to get back to the SB. Now any given Sunday and all that, but on paper this is not a great matchup.

Baker’s play will continue to improve, and he’ll probably put up a strong statistical performance. However our seeming unwillingness to run the ball will continue to be a thing, and overcompensating in the blocking scheme to fend off the monster that is Aaron Donald will serve to limit the offensive options (as will the absence of David Njoku).

We’ll be in it into the second half, but then somebody will fumble, leading to a quick Rams’ TD, and we’ll never really get back into it.” Rams 26, Browns 17.


rufio: “The Browns defense plays well early, but a few busted coverages against play action lead to a pair of scores. The offense still doesn’t have all the kinks worked out, and after coming out hot they fizzle late in the 1st and throughout the 2nd quarter. At halftime the Browns make adjustments and the offense starts to look more like what we imagined in the offseason, but the comeback bid falls short, just outside of really scaring the Rams.” Rams 35, Browns 28.


Josh Finney: “Rise Chubb, eh? /blinks

Browns are terrible at defending the things the Rams do well. (Creative misdirection, screens, play action) Gurley is a beast. The only thing that can keep this close is Goff’s road splits (they’re a thing!) and the travel. Browns will have to be very creative to avoid Darnolds putting Baker in intensive care. At least the OL strength is in the middle.” Rams 31, Browns 24.


Barry Shuck: “The Rams are what we thought they were.” Rams 38, Browns 17.


BigTownBrown: “The Rams come into Cleveland with a winning record, and will leave with a winning record, yet they will come out of town with a L. The HYPE is real in BelieveLand and Sunday night the Browns will show the Land of the Free just what they have been wanting to see.

Expect a tight game into the 4th quarter when the Browns are behind 20-21, but find a field goal late to pull ahead, the Yams will have the ball looking to move with 5 minutes left. Goff throws his 2nd int of the night and a few plays later Nick Chubb breaks off a huge TD run.” Browns 30, Rams 21.


Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.