This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Los Angeles Rams. To help preview a few topics from the Rams’ perspective, we reached out to Evan Craig from Turf Show Times and exchanged five questions with him.
Chris: “‘m having a tough time gauging what type of team the Rams are. Statistically, they are dead even in the middle of the NFL offensively and defensively. What has the team been good and bad at this season in general?”
Evan: “Truthfully, I’ve also had a hard time gauging what kind of team the Rams are. They’ve played way above their abilities in games against the 49ers and Eagles and stumble against a crappy team like the Steelers. (Browns fans should know that pain from earlier this year.) They’ve been a consistently inconsistent team this entire season which doesn’t bode well for their chances in the playoffs if by some miracle they make it.
Even though they haven’t really had a choice given the construction of the roster, LA has done well in giving their young players plenty of opportunities. Players like Puka Nacua, Byron Young, Kobie Turner (more on him later) and Steve Avila have all performed above all reasonable expectations of them heading into 2023. That is why the Rams have been a remarkably scrappy team which is what I had anticipated going in. The team always showed fight on the field even with all their injuries in ‘22 and that is a testament to coaching. I have yet to watch a Sean McVay-coached team flat-out give up and I don’t anticipate it starting now.
However, McVay hasn’t been the best play caller at times. It’s unreasonable to expect perfection every week. All coaches have their bad games but McVay has been inconsistent in that department. He called a heck of a game against the Niners in Week 2 despite a losing effort. Then he followed that up with a terrible performance in Cincinnati where Matthew Stafford was basically forced to do everything. Last week was easily McVay’s best coached game of the year as LA had exactly 33 passing attempts and 33 rushing attempts. Everything was balanced as all things shown be which should have Thanos sympathizers everywhere rejoicing. My hope is that having Kyren Williams back in the lineup will curb this issue.”
Chris: “After two big games in his return for Cooper Kupp, his number’s have been quiet the past 5 games. What has happened with the production we’re used to seeing from him?”
Evan: “My fear with Cooper Kupp is that this slump is due to the lingering effects of his hamstring injury which forced him to miss the first four games. Something seems to be nagging him which might explain why he has the worst catching percentage of his career (52.9%).
There’s also the simple fact that Puka Nacua is the more reliable option at the moment even if he’s also been relatively quiet compared to his production early in the year. Nacua is seemingly eating into Kupp’s target share, particularly when it comes to targets on designed plays.
Many factors at play regarding Cooper Kupp's recent statistical slump, but this is a big one.— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) November 28, 2023
Percentage of Kupp's targets to come on designed plays" per @FantasyPtsData:
Since Week 5, 19% of Puka Nacua's targets have come on designed plays.
Hopefully Kupp will regain his All-Pro form, which I’m not expecting until next season, assuming he stays healthy during the offseason that is. I maintain the belief that he’s a top 10 receiver when healthy and this rough stretch has yet to waver my faith in him.”
Chris: “What is the biggest strength and weakness on Los Angeles’ offensive line?”
Evan: “The line hasn’t been perfect but it’s miles better than it was in 2022. Through 11 games, the Rams have given up 22 sacks after giving up 59 a year ago. The biggest strengths have been RG Kevin Dotson who was acquired from the Steelers prior to the season and RT Rob Havenstein. Dotson has been playing at an All-Pro level while Havenstein has a 85.3 PFF grade since Week 4, ranking third among right tackles. Those two have been the glue that has held this mediocre line together.
On the flip side, the biggest weakness is inexperience. Rookie Steve Avila has given up just two sacks but has been average at run stopping. Alaric Jackson and Coleman Shelton have had their moments, yet have also been wildly inconsistent. The entire line went through a rebuild following the frequent sack parties the unit was allowing in the backfield all last season. This group hasn’t played with each other very long at all and they deserve time to mesh. Patience is key and I’ve been fairly satisfied with the direction they’re going.”
Chris: “Tell us about one player who Browns fans may not have heard of, but who could have an impact on this Sunday’s game.”
Evan: “Remember how I mentioned Kobie Turner earlier?
The defensive line hasn’t been the most consistent piece of the defense despite ageless wonder Aaron Donald leading the charge. I’ve been paying special attention to the rookie class this season and Turner gets better and better every week.
Last week in Arizona, the rookie had four tackles, including two QB hits and two sacks. He put Kyler Murray through hell all game long. Kobie was up for Rookie of the Week for his performance, making him the third Rams rookie to be nominated for a weekly award this season. Even if Turner doesn’t get to the quarterback, he’s already demonstrated his value as a pass rusher this early into his career.
It’s no wonder this kid is nicknamed “The Conductor” since he’s going to be steamrolling opposing offensive lines for years to come.”
Chris: “The Browns are early underdogs against the Rams on Sunday (Browns +3.5 as of this question, per DraftKings Sportsbook). Who would you pick against the spread?”
Evan: “I see the Browns’ D-line posing a problem whether or not Myles Garrett plays this weekend. Cleveland has been so strong on defense so I expect them to give LA’s offense fits. This will likely not be a very high-scoring game but it’s one the Rams should win. The Browns don’t have a damn quarterback and no matter who they start my confidence level in LA will increase. LA can’t afford to lose this game and if they do, their playoff chances will officially die as they deserve to. My bet is for the Rams to go against the spread and beat the Browns by at least a touchdown.”
Thanks again to Ian for taking the time to answer my questions.