Browns/Rams: 4 Keys To Victory Week 13

December 2, 2023

Andy Billman Tony Camino

Cleveland Browns at Los Angeles Rams Matchups to Watch:

1 – Browns QB vs. Matthew Stafford

Andy –

This match-up, from the Cleveland perspective, is about hope.

If you believe in Joe Flacco, then this match-up is less concerning. If you are worried about Flacco, this match-up is a heavy favorite for the Rams. 

The good news is that Matthew Stafford’s numbers are average; he is not a quarterback who will win games, and outside of playing the Cardinals, his numbers don’t jump off the page. He does not lose games, either, and he’s consistent, which helps the Rams, so they know what they are getting. The Browns’ defense should be able to contain Stafford and, with pressure, make this passing game short yardage.

That’s the one problem with this match-up for the Browns, and it is impossible to guess how Flacco will do on Sunday. He is a veteran with a whole week of practice, can win big games, and has been in big moments, so hopefully, that’s what we see on Sunday. One would think he will perform well, we hope (fingers crossed).

Tony –

Joe Flacco, under center in Week 13, will mark the fourth different quarterback to start a game for the Browns this year. Dorian Thompson-Robinson made great strides last week but will miss this game with a concussion. Flacco wasn’t ever much more than a game manager, even in his prime, except for some playoff runs. He’ll need to take care of the ball and make timely throws to keep the Browns on schedule.

Matthew Stafford’s best days are behind him as well, but he’s at least been starting consistently. Stafford’s numbers are pedestrian this year, as he ranks near the bottom in both success rate and completion percentage over expected. The Rams have the advantage because of Stafford’s experience in the system and because he’s been playing all year, but it shouldn’t be a matchup that decides the game.

2 – Browns run defense vs. Rams run offense

Tony –

Unlike most Sean McVay offenses with Stafford, the 2023 Rams have done a great job running the ball this year. They rank in the top 15 in both yards per attempt and rush success rate despite being in the upper half of the rush rate. Their offensive line ranks in the upper half in yards before contact, and the recent return of Kyren Williams will make stopping the run even more difficult.

The Browns struggled last week against trap runs, and hopefully, they aren’t susceptible to other run plays again this week. Stafford and McVay have a lot of football IQ and can make life difficult for the Browns’ defensive line if they find a run check that proves successful. Being on the fourth quarterback of the year, this team isn’t built to play from behind. They have to find a way to stop the run to have a chance to win.

Andy –

The Rams are in the league’s upper half in rushing, so Cleveland is facing another team that can run the ball.  They must force Stafford to try to win the game.  If the Rams start running the ball all over the yard, it will be similar to the game last week in Denver. The Rams and Broncos are practically the same opponent, as they are close on the rushing stats.

The Browns’ defense must do a better job up the middle with their tackles and linebackers.  Last week, the Broncos easily ran through the defensive line, which is the strength to stop the run.  Cleveland wants to rely on something other than their linebackers or safeties to stop the run. That’s not how they are built.

To me, this match-up will determine the game; if the Browns can slow down the Rams’ running game, they should win.

3 – Browns OL vs. Rams DL

Andy –

This is different than your typical offensive line week with a new quarterback not known for mobility.  This game will test the Browns’ tackles, Geron Christian and Dawand Jones, with new challenges of protecting Flacco as he will sit in the pocket.  

Containing Aaron Donald is everything when going up against LA.  The Rams play a 3-4 defense, very similar to the Steelers, but not as talented on paper, so if the Browns can keep Donald from going off, they should be okay, but again, it’s easier said than done.

I would expect the Browns to bring in an extra lineman or have the tight ends help with protection and the running game.

The one bright spot for Cleveland is LA is not a run-stopping defense; they are in the middle of the pack for stopping the run, so if the Browns plan to run, they should get some yardage on the ground.

Tony –

The Rams’ defensive line starts and ends with one man: Aaron Donald. Regarded as one of the greatest defenders the NFL has ever seen, Donald is playing with one of the worst defensive line units of his career. They rank in the bottom half in yards before contact and are average in pressure rate. Donald is registering an insane 21% pass rush win rate, but nobody else on the Rams is even at 10%.

The Browns, despite all the injuries, rank near the top in pressure rate and yards before contact. With Dawand Jones healthy, there’s much more faith that the quarterback will have time to sit in the pocket and deliver the ball. Handling Donald is the only task to winning up front, and the game plan is likely centered around not letting No. 99 beat them.

4 – Not a key match-up, but an assessment of the Browns’ long list of injuries while trying to compete on Sunday with the Rams.

Tony –

To be 7-4 with the list of significant injuries is mind-blowing, to say the least. Consider the Jets, who lost only Aaron Rodgers in Week 1 and now struggle to sustain anything on offense. Keep an eye on the Bengals, who have Jake Browning starting the rest of the year. Unlike those teams, the Browns have lost their starting quarterback, All-Pro running back, and All-Pro right tackle for the year, not to mention smaller absences that lasted just a few weeks.

The Browns cannot afford any more major injuries if they want to make it to the playoffs this year. The defense needs to continue dominating, and they will have to rely on Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward to be as dominant as they’ve been all year. The Browns are never good enough for us to realize how injury luck is going for a season, but this year has been completely undermined by injuries. 2024 could be very special with health, just as 2023 could have been.

Andy –

The Browns are finally at a point where if they sustain more injuries to key players, it will be hard to be competitive in games.  It will be a big gulp for everyone if the Browns are without Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward on Sunday. To be without your top two players on offense, Nick Chubb and Deshaun Watson, and no Garrett and Ward on the other side of the ball, it just makes for all other players to perform at such a high level.

In the offseason, Cleveland will have to evaluate how to keep players on the field because this is not sustainable for a 17-game regular season plus playoffs.

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