Why the Rams offense will break out against the Browns

This is the week the Rams offense comes alive.

Not that 28.5 points per game isn’t a respectable average. By the Sean McVay standard, it just feels, well… average.

Consider that Los Angeles led the league in first half scoring in 2017 and ranked second in 2018.

So far this season, the Rams have mustered only three first quarter points in two games and have scored just one first half touchdown. That translates to a modest 19 first half points, combined.

It changes Sunday night in Cleveland.

The Los Angeles Rams practice ahead of this week's Sunday Night Football matchup against the Cleveland Browns.

Depleted Dawg Pound

I can’t recall seeing an opposing injury report like the Browns have put out this week, with four contributors ruled out and eight others questionable to face the Rams.

Let’s start in the secondary, where safety Damarious Randall is a scratch and the other three starters (cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams and safety Morgan Burnett) will be game-time decisions.

As for starting linebackers, Christian Kirksey has been ruled out, while Adarius Taylor is questionable.

On offense, the Browns will also have to replace dynamic tight end David Njoku, who may require wrist surgery.

Austin Blythe could be the first Rams offensive lineman to miss a start due to injury since McVay was hired, but they’ll get no sympathy from the opponents in prime time.

These are opportunities you must capitalize on in the NFL.

We’ve Seen This Movie Before

It’s a small sample size, to be certain. But against Steve Wilkes’ Arizona defense last season, the Rams notched 34-0 and 31-9 victories, amassing 893 yards of total offense against the Cardinals. After a one-and-done opportunity as head coach in the desert, Wilkes now runs the defense in Cleveland. And with due respect to Marcus Mariota and Trevor Siemian/Luke Falk, Jared Goff operates the best offense the Browns will have faced in 2019.

Top Trio Versus Dynamic Duo

Which receiving corps would you rather have: Browns or Rams?

Objectively, there’s a very good case to be made for Odell Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry. However, the Browns are still trying to pin down a third with Rashard Higgins, Damion Ratley, or potentially currently-suspended Antonio Callaway.

Meantime, the Rams are the only NFL team with three 100-yard receivers, and the way they compete in the running game, block for each other, and threaten defenses with jet sweeps, you wouldn’t trade this trio for any other.

Time to Get Right (Tackle)

That’s not to say the Rams don’t have questions to answer on offense at 2-0, and they primarily involve the offensive line. After a career-season in 2018, Rob Havenstein is off to a slow start against elite competition. Cam Jordan had a field day in the Coliseum last week. The Panthers were able to puncture the pocket against him in Week One, as well.

Now Blythe is dinged, and Pro Bowl defensive end Olivier Vernon awaits in Cleveland, hoping for his first sacks of 2019.

Rams offensive line coach Aaron Kromer exudes nothing but calm confidence, however.

“I haven’t been around a group that was this young, and that every eyeball, every word you say, they’re intentionally listening,” he said this week. “When you have something like that, you can grow. Our goal is to be at our peak at the end of the season.”

Best on Best

On the other side of the line, I think you’ll find the matchup of the game, and one of the best in the NFL this week.

The top selection in 2017, Myles Garrett has already put his name atop the defensive player of the year conversation. Albeit against the lowly Jets, he’s coming off a career-high three sacks on Monday Night, plus two roughing the passer penalties.

Garrett does his damage from right defensive end, meaning he’ll be working in Andrew Whitworth’s office on Sunday Night.

One Block and Gurley’s Gone

In his first 29 regular season games playing in McVay’s offense, Todd Gurley averaged 47 receiving yards per contest.

In his last 5 games (including 2018 postseason), he has 13 receiving yards, TOTAL.

Perhaps more than any other dimension of the Rams offense, this is the piece that’s been missing since December 2018.

However, if you watch the first offensive snap of Week Two, Los Angeles is one block away from scoring a touchdown off a screen and erasing this talking point altogether.

How Good is This Defense, Really?

So far, so good for this veteran-fortified group.

However, if you want to discount their performance through two weeks, it’s not difficult.

First, they surrendered over 200 scrimmage yards to Christian McCaffrey and “survived” against Cam Newton, who is an injured shell of his MVP self and won’t play in Week Three.

Next, they knocked out a future first-ballot Hall of Famer in Drew Brees and feasted on an underprepared, conservative Teddy Bridgewater for the better part of three quarters.

In the Rams defense – pun very intended – they can only play what’s in front of them. And whether it’s creating takeaways on both opening drives or keeping opponents out of the end zone for every quarter Eric Weddle has finished, they’ve been great. Football Outsiders has them fifth overall through two weeks.

Diffusing Defense

With the above caveats, no team has been better at limiting chunk plays.

Opposing offenses have just two gains of 20-plus yards against the Rams defense; that’s two fewer than any other franchise.

Between Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, and OBJ, the Browns will thoroughly challenge this stat on Sunday.

Relying on Former Rams

It feels like there’s a misperception about the Browns offensive line. I’ve heard repeatedly this week that the Rams pass rush is going to chew them up in the trenches.

Perhaps this is because Mayfield’s protections includes two players the Rams released: former first-round draft pick Greg Robinson and Eric Kush (he of Fat Arm American Friday fame).

While Robinson continues to underwhelm, Kush has been solid in Chicago and Cleveland. Plus, on the interior, the Browns have been stout, particularly at left guard where Joel Bitinio is PFF’s top-graded player at his position.

It will be interesting to see where Aaron Donald chooses to go to work this weekend.

Weddle’s Week?

I’ll leave you with a quick nugget on Weddle, in the hopes he breaks his interception drought on Sunday night.

The 13-year pro’s last pick came in Cleveland in December 2017, and his four interceptions (in eight games) against the Browns match his career high against any opponent (also four against the Chiefs in 19 games).

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