BEREA—The Browns will do all they can to try and slow down rookie Todd Gurley and the St. Louis Rams running game.
That’s a given.
But the Browns will need to put up points in order to have a chance to win and will face a formidable defense this week in the Rams. Overall, the Rams are ranked 10th in the NFL, defensively.
Thus far, the Browns strength has been their offense as they have the 10th best offense in the league. The Browns are averaging 364 yards per game, including 272 passing.
The Browns will also play their only game scheduled game indoors at the Edward Jones Dome this week.
Mike Pettine said it’s always tough to play in a dome.
“It is, it is,” Pettine said. “I know we’re going to be playing up in Seattle and Kansas City gets real loud, as well. Just being in the circumstances of being in a dome forces you to (be prepared).”
There has been rumors swirling for some time that the Rams might move to Los Angeles or elsewhere after the season and early estimates are they are expecting only about 35,000 fans this week at the game. Pettine said indoors the crowd noise is amplified and adds to the difficulty of playing against the Rams.
“35,000 when its bouncing off the roof is still louder than most stadiums,” he said. “We will simulate it in practice.”
Pettine said the Rams defense is very aggressive and he expects more pressure on Josh McCown than what the Broncos placed on him. Denver sacked McCown four times.
“It’s a similar conversation to last week," Pettine said. "Going against a group that rushes the passer as well as they do, as aggressive as they are defensively, they’ll bring more pressure or it’ll be more exotic pressure than what Denver did. Just add to it, the issues with communications. I think a lot of that has to do with the plan and that falls onto Flip (offensive coordinator John DeFilippo) and to (quarterbacks coach) Kevin (O’Connell) and the rest of the offensive coaches and the interaction with Josh and the offense to make sure that this week simpler is better.
"You might have a play that could have a couple different checks based on what they’re in, but if you can’t get it communicated and executed in real time in that environment, it’s not going to do you any good," he said. "We just have to make sure we’re walking that fine line between getting ourselves in the best play but also, I said it in the meetings when we were game planning: ‘Hey, just make sure simpler is better.’ Simpler is better this week just because of the environment we’re going to be in.”
McCown agrees with his coach.
“Yeah, absolutely," he said. "When you start adding in the variables that they have as far as crowd noise and their front and all those things, you have to be careful not to add too much to your plate that you create issues for yourself. Coaches have done and we need to do a good job of putting that plan together as far as keeping things simple so that we are able to execute in the noise.”
Rams coach Jeff Fisher has been impressed with McCown and the Browns offense in what he’s seen.
“Just very impressed with what Josh has done,” Fisher said in a conference call Wednesday. “The receivers are very well coached. They’ve got great speed and quickness. The offensive line is well coached. Got a running game, got an offense that’s been putting up some points against, traditionally, some very difficult defenses. We talk about three-point games here over the last three weeks, a couple of them on the road and then the big win against Baltimore, it’s very impressive.”
McCown is 12th overall in the NFL among quarterbacks with a 94.6 rating with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. However, he has done his best work later in games and is currently ranked eighth in the NFL in the fourth quarter among all quarterbacks with a rating of 114.8 with five touchdowns and two interceptions.
McCown was disappointed in last week’s overtime loss to the Broncos. He was 20-of-39 for 213 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, including a pick six. He also threw an interception when the Browns had a chance to win the game in regulation. His rating was just 63.3.
Pettine doesn’t think McCown will allow last week to carry over to this week’s game.
“I think he’s been around enough," Pettine said. "I don’t see him as a guy – having been in the league as long as he has been, he is not going to let it carry over. He’ll use it as fuel to help him this week move on. This is an aggressive defense. They present a lot of challenges. I don’t think he is going to have a lot of time to think back.”
Pettine said he doesn’t agree that McCown and the offense have a pattern of starting slowly.
“Sometimes, it is a matter of figuring an opponent out," Pettine said. "They do a good job early and we are still getting a sense for how they are playing us. There have been a couple games where teams have come out and played us a little bit different than what we anticipated and have had to make adjustments.
"With the quarterback, there have been some games where he has missed some throws early and has gotten in a groove and a better sense of what we were getting and improved as the games goes on," he said. "They are all different."
Pettine said it's important for the Browns to get off to a good start this week in St. Louis, particularly on offense.
"I don’t see that necessarily as this is a reoccurring problem for us as being slow starters," he said. "Some games, we have gotten out of the gate. You look at the very first game of the year, offensively, that drive, 17-18 plays, whatever it was. I don’t think that is a huge concern, but it is a priority every week. That is why we script out the openers. The guys know these are the formations, these are the plays we are going to run. They have a good sense, and they can study them and know them. That is important. Especially on the road, you want to get out of the gate early to get the crowd out of it.”
Haden, Gipson Still Sidelined: As the Browns started preparation for Sunday’s game with the Rams, four players were not practicing in DB Joe Haden (concussion), DB Tashaun Gipson (ankle), LB Craig Robertson (ankle) and TE Rob Housler (hamstring). Haden and Housler were not seen on the field, while Gipson and Robertson were on the side working with trainers.
The Browns had 13 players listed on their pre-practice injury report:TE Gary Barnidge (ankle), LB Tank Carder (shoulder), DB Tashaun Gipson (ankle), DB Joe Haden (concussion/finger), TE Rob Housler (hamstring), DL John Hughes III (knee), QB Johnny Manziel (right elbow), WR Marlon Moore (hamstring), LB Nate Orchard (groin), LB Craig Robertson (ankle), DL Danny Shelton (knee), DL Randy Starks (rest) and OL Joe Thomas (rest).
Duke Good to Go: Rookie RB Duke Johnson was injured in last Sunday’s game with the Broncos. He was forced to leave with an announced shoulder injury and head injury. After being checked out by the medical staff, Johnson re-entered the game. He was not on the pre-practice injury list on Wednesday.
“Any time a guy goes down there’s concern,” Pettine said. “But he’s cleared and good to go.”
Gaines, Winston Return to Practice: Rookie DB Charles Gaines has been on short term injured reserve since injuring his hamstring near the end of preseason. Gaines is allowed to practice with the team and is eligible to be activated for Week 9 when the Browns play the Bengals on Thurs. Nov. 5. Gaines was placed on injured reserve on Aug. 29.
Pettine said he’s eager to see Gaines back at practice.
“Very eager,” he said. “He’s done an outstanding job along with our training staff and strength training staff to come along. I feel he’s in great shape, but he needs to get in football shape. Physically, he’s 100 percent, but has to get in football shape.
Winston has been on the ‘physically unable to play’ (PUP) list since the Aug.5. when he had arthroscopic surgery on his knee.
“Both of those guys will be a welcome addition to the practice field,” he said. “We’ll bring them along slowly.”
“We can make decision anytime with Winston and (Randy) Telfer.”
Bibbs Up?: With TE Rob Housler out with a hamstring, there’s a chance that rookie TE E.J. Bibbs could be active for the first time this Sunday.
“It’s in the conversation,” he said. “We’ll know more after (Thursday’s practice). The third tight end has got to help you.”
Bibbs had a strong preseason and made the team as an undrafted free agent from Iowa State.
Bowe Update: It didn’t sound like WR Dwayne Bowe would be playing any meaningful snaps anytime soon when asked what his status is.
“We make that decision each week from a depth standpoint,” Pettine said. “I talked about the minimum position requirements. The top four guys are entrenched and Marlon (Moore) is doing good work on special teams and it goes form there.”
The top four receivers on the depth chart are WR Travis Benjamin, WR Andrew Hawkins, WR Brian Hartline and WR Taylor Gabriel.
Special Guys: Pettine singled out DB Don Jones for his play in his first game with the Browns last Sunday on special teams after signing Oct. 14, just days before the game. Jones was credited with two special teams tackles.
LB Jayson DiManche was signed on Tuesday after they released RB Shaun Draughn and there’s a chance DiManche will be active this week.
“I thought Don Jones did an outstanding job in his first game with just a few days of practice,” he said.
DiManche (6-1, 245) was signed off the Chiefs’ practice squad on Tuesday.
Pettine said he’ll let Special Teams coordinator Chris Tabor determine if he’s ready.
“(It depends) on where DiManche is at?” he said. “I want Tabes (Tabor) to get a good feel for where he is.”
On Tuesday, the Browns also signed TE Brian Leonhardt to the practice squad and released DB Ty Zimmerman from the practice squad.