The Rams offense was recently known as the greatest show on turf. This is no longer the case as the struggling offense has resulted in an 0-6 start as injuries have decimated the offense. They are starting to get healthy with quarterback Marc Bulger and running back Stephen Jackson expected to start this week.
While the loss of Marc and Steven has definitely played a large role in the Rams struggle, that struggle is a direct result in the injuries that have completely decimated the offensive line. Offensive guard Claude Terrell didn't help matters as he was released this week due to off the field incidents.
This is basically a new offensive line trying to learn to play together in the thick of battle. The communication and the chemistry will be an uphill battle for the Rams. It is hard enough to work in one or two new starters but when nearly the entire offensive line has been replaced, it is virtually an impossible battle.
With Steven Jackson returning, look for the Rams to do one thing over and over and over again. The Rams will run the football and when they get tired of running. They will run some more. Jackson is one of the most physical backs in football. His power and speed can take over a game, and if the line can give him a lane, he will take it the distance.
Rookie Brian Leonard has been very impressive thus far, averaging 4 yards per carry with very little help from the offensive line. Leonard will fight for every inch and he is the type of back that can not only wear down a defense but also frustrate them to the point where they start looking for someone else to make the tackle. He enjoys delivering the punishment. This is a terrific one-two punch combined with Steven Jackson.
Marc Bulger is frustrated from the obvious beating that he has endured this year. Getting sacked 24 times would be bad enough but that doesn't come close to the number of hits he has taken. Bulger is tough and will stand in under the pressure and give his big-play receivers time to get open. Look for the Rams passing game to make adjustments giving the quarterback more short quick routes. If the Browns continue to display a lack of aggression, the field will become stretched vertically. Unfortunately for the Rams, Bulger is a sitting duck in the pocket with sore ribs and a swollen knee. His mobility will be nonexistent. The Browns shouldn't have much difficulty in finding the bruised and battered quarterback.
The Rams injuries have not only hit the offensive line, quarterback, and running back, but also the receiving group. Dante Hall isn't expected to suit up for this one but more importantly, Isaac Bruce may be out as well. If Bruce is able to go, the combination of Tory Holt and Isaac Bruce remains one of the most dynamic receiving combos in football. Both are solid route runners that can frustrate defensive backs as they hide their explosiveness. They hold back that extra gear until they get a chance to exploit the defense.
I am very interested in seeing the approach of the Browns defense this week. Their passive play and bend-don't-break philosophy has seemingly killed the confidence of the players. Will they continue to wait for opposing offenses to make a mistake or will they look to take advantage of the worst offensive line in football and an offense riddled with injuries?
The Browns front seven continues to be a tremendous disappointment. Nose tackles Ethan Kelly and Ted Washington have combined for 8 tackles. The number is bad but it is truly horrible when you consider that teams run the ball down the throat of the Browns. There is no need to throw the ball against the Browns because this defense is giving up five yards per attempt.
The best thing the Browns could do to stop the run would be to sign recently released Falcons nose tackle Grady Jackson but the Browns have yet to show any signs of interest. If the defense struggles again Sunday, please feel free to start up a sign Grady Jackson petition.
The linebacker unit has been equally unimpressive. For all the talent this unit has, it has put up just six sacks through six games. Part of the problem is scheme and part of the problem is the front three, but the linebackers are far from innocent in their play. This group has too much talent to be playing this poorly.
The bright side for the defense is that the Rams offensive line, particularly without left tackle Olando Pace, is bad enough to at least get their confidence going. Look for Kamerion Wimbley and Antwan Peek to have breakout games on Sunday. The Rams just do no have enough foot speed at the tackle positions to contain the rush of Peek and Wimbley.
The Browns defensive backfield is slowly growing in confidence. Rookie corner Eric Wright seemingly improves each and every week. This improvement is outstanding in itself but when you consider he is beginning to draw the opposition's best receiver on a weekly basis, his play becomes even more impressive.
Daven Holly is arguably the most underrated player on the Cleveland Browns. His role will be vital this week as he will often be covering the slot position for the Rams. The Rams love to rub off the defensive back covering the slot and this will make communication vital for Holly to have success. The safeties must talk to the other defensive backs and let them know what is coming.
Leigh Bodden is getting healthy and returning to his old style of physical play from the corner position. Bodden can be instrumental in not only the passing game but also in the run game. He is one of the best pure tackles on this defense and will be looking to have a huge impact this week.
The safety play for the Browns has not been anywhere near what was expected. Brodney Pool and Sean Jones just aren't making the plays necessary for this team to have success. The safeties should be playmakers but they simply aren't visible unless they are being beaten deep. Again, communication must improve.
The Rams defense is vastly underrated. They are giving up a lot of points, but many of those points are off of turnovers.
Upfront this group is solid and improving. Leonard Little and James Hall do an excellent job of containing the outside and rerouting the play back to the middle. Rookie Adam Carriker is having normal rookie struggles but the one positive is that he is maintaining his position well and he has greatly increased his lower body strength from last year in college. Unfortunately for the Rams, Little will also miss Sunday's game.
Veteran linebacker Will Witherspoon is off to his best start as a Ram. He is quietly becoming one of the better middle linebackers in the NFL. He has made dramatic improvement at reading the play before it happens and getting himself in the right position as the play develops. Along with the his ability to make the solo tackle, his improved mental game is likely to land him in Pro Bowl consideration this year.
The secondary for the Rams is a solid unit but they have yet to show they can make the game changing plays. Part of this is a rather uninspiring tandem of safeties. They appear to play everything so safe that they are often failing to make plays on the ball when the opportunity is there. They will, however, lay the big hit as they play the man rather than the ball. This tendency could be a challenge with the size of the Browns receivers.
Ronald Bartell is coming into his own as an NFL corner. He has great hand usage at the line of scrimmage and can take most receivers out of their route. Early on, he would lose containment due to getting to vertical in his backpedal but that has been coached out of him. Bartell versus Braylon should be a great battle to watch.
The Browns offense is starting to show all the signs of becoming an elite offense. The scary part (for opponents) is that running back Jamal Lewis being sidelined with injury, gave Jerome Harrison an opportunity to show what he can do running the ball. Jerome is a slasher, and from what I saw he probably fits this offensive line better than Lewis. He doesn't need a running lane. He simply needs a crease and he is gone.
The maturity and confidence of quarterback Derek Anderson are growing at an outstanding pace. Anderson is coming off of a near-flawless game against an underrated Dolphins defense. Anderson is slowly starting to understand that throwing the ball away is often the best thing he can do with the ball but that is a hard lesson for someone with his kind of arm stretch. He can put the ball in places few quarterbacks would even think about. Every game is an audition for Derek Anderson.
The Browns receiving corps is on a record-setting pace with Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow averaging nearly 20 yards per reception. Both are having career years and show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. The one area the Browns do need to address is the slot position. I would not be surprised if Steve Sanders makes his way onto the active roster very soon.
Everything is falling into place for the Browns offense due the outstanding play of the offensive line. Rookie tackle Joe Thomas and veteran Kevin Shaffer have completely secured the bookend positions. Pressure doesn't come from the outside. The interior has not been as stout as the tackles but they have played well enough to keep Derek Anderson upright. The one concern is the lack of push in the running game. It is hard to believe, but this line may get even better if and when LeCharles Bentley is able to make his return.
The Rams are a desperate team and are fighting for their coach Scott Linehan. Linehan shouldn't be on the hot seat due to the amount of injuries suffered by the offense but he is nonetheless.
The Browns are heading for a fight to make the playoffs but a game like this is what will make or break this season. They have the easiest schedule remaining and they simply can't afford to let up.