The St. Louis Rams (2-3) return to the Edward Jones Dome for the first time since Sept. 27 with a noon game Sunday against the Cleveland Browns (2-4); (TV: KMOV-Channel 4; Radio: WXOS-FM 101.1)
Here are five things to watch:
1. Facing the NFL’s worst rushing defense, can Rams rookie running back Todd Gurley enjoy a third straight big game?
Cleveland is surrendering an NFL-worst 149.8 yards per game on the ground and Todd Gurley has 305 yards in his last two starts. Seems like an obvious mismatch on paper, but NFL teams spend dozens of hours trying to find ways to take things away from their opponent. That being said, Gurley has already shown he can shred solid defenses having turned in big games against Arizona and Green Bay. Could be another big day for the rookie, who is still looking for his first NFL touchdown.
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2. Can the Rams finally string together two consistent performances in a row and beat a team they are favored against?
The Ram’s unpredictability has become almost too predictable. They followed up an emotional season-opening overtime win over the defending NFC champion Seahawks with a 24-10 road loss to Washington. After a 12-6 loss at home to a Steelers team that lost quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to injury during the game, the Rams took down previously unbeaten Arizona on the road, 24-22. This seems like a winnable game on the surface, but with the Rams you just never know
3. Do the Rams have a go-to receiver on their roster or will they have to keep relying on a spread-the-ball format?
All those high-end draft picks on defense are paying off, but they left the receiving corps average at best. Tavon Austin was the eighth overall pick and the Rams continue to find more ways to get him involved, but he’s not a go-to receiver. Veteran Kenny Britt may be the closest thing this team has to a go-to receiver since Brian Quick hasn’t been the impact player he flashed early last year before his shoulder injury. Tight ends Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks have ben inconsistent and have trouble holding onto the ball. Stedman Bailey seems to be a solid receiver, but doesn’t get many targets.
4. Can the aggressive Rams defense spent the day on a seek-and-destroy mission against Browns quarterback Josh McCown?
The Rams are third in the NFL with 19 sacks and one of the most intriguing battles can be found with Rams defensive end Robert Quinn matched against Browns left tackle Joe Thomas. Quinn has been in two Pro Bowls but Thomas has been to eight. Cleveland also must find a way to control Rams’ lineman Aaron Donald. The Rams have 11 sacks at home this season and will be facing McCown for the third straight year (he was with Tampa Bay in 2013 and the Bears in 2014). McCown (1,416 yards, eight TDS) has been hot lately and is the first Browns quarterback to throw multiple TD passs in four straight weeks since Derek Anderson in 2007. McCown has averaged just over 341 yards passing in each of his last four games and likes to use tight end Gary Barnidge (27 catches, 413 yards five TDs) and wide receiver Travis Benjamin (31 catches, 528 yards, four TDs).
5. Does Gurley provide an instant upgrade to the Rams’ offense?
He most certainly does — and it also should help the struggling passing attack. Here’s why: If defenses are forced to load up the box to stop Gurley, that should provide more one-on-one coverage for outside receivers. Rams quarterback Nick Foles won’t overwhelm anyone, but if he avoids interceptions (he was picked off four times by Green Bay) and isn’t hammered by the pass rush because of an inexperienced offensive line, can be more than capable. Gurley can also be utilized more in the passing game as well.