8:20 PM EST, NBC – Line: Rams -3.5, Over/Under: 47
Primetime Football returns to Cleveland, as the Browns play host to the reigning NFC Champions, the Los Angeles Rams, from FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, in a meeting between teams fashioning themselves as Super Bowl contenders. Of course, there is no need for the Rams (2-0, T-1st in NFC West) to fashion themselves as contenders, for after advancing all the way to Super Bowl LIII last season, they are already on the proverbial radar. For the second consecutive season, Los Angeles is off to a 2-0 start, though unlike in previous seasons, they have been met with plenty of competition within the Division, as the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers are also unbeaten through two weeks of action. However, if their recent performances are of any indication, this team will be well equipped to return to grandest of stages, though it remains to be seen if Sean McVay’s charges have what it takes get over the hump following last year’s 3-13 defeat to the New England Patriots. Following a 30-27 victory at the Carolina Panthers in the Season Opener, the Rams were afforded little time to rest with a rematch of last year’s controversial NFC Championship Game against the New Orleans Saints set to provide an early litmus test. Of course, last year’s 26-23 Overtime at the Superdome was marred by one of the worst officiating gaffes in recent memory, when a blatant Pass Interference from Rams’ Defensive Back, Nickell Robey-Coleman (8 TKL, 1 PD) went unpenalized on a late scoring drive, tilting the momentum back in favor of the visiting side. This time, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum served as the backdrop for an early battle between NFC powerhouses, with the rematch starting slowly, as the combatants traded Field Goals through the better half of the first Three Quarters of play. However, everything changed when Saints’ Quarterback, Drew Brees, struck his thumb on Aaron Donald’s (2 TKL, 1 TFL, 2 QBH) helmet following through on a pass, ultimately tearing ligaments in appendage, sidelining him for the rest of the afternoon. It was at this point that Los Angles began to buckle down on the visiting side, who simply weren’t the same without their venerable Captain to guide them, as the hosts went on to outscore them 21-3 down the stretch en route to a 27-9 victory. In the end, McVay’s Offense was solid once again, amassing 380 Total Yards on Twenty First Downs, including 115 Rushing Yards and Two Touchdowns on Thirty Carries, led by the newly-minted one-two punch of Todd Gurley (30 CAR, 160 YDS, 5.3 Y/R, 1 TD) and Malcolm Brown (17 CAR, 90 YDS, 5.3 Y/R, 2 TD), while Jared Goff (62.7%, 469 YDS, 6.31 NY/A, 2 TD, 1 INT, 35.1 QBR) completed 19-of-28 Passes for 283 Yards, and a Touchdown. Furthermore, Cooper Kupp (12 REC, 166 YDS, 13.8 Y/R, 0 TD) had himself a day, hauling in Five Receptions for 120 Yards, while Brandon Cooks (5 REC, 113 YDS, 22.6 Y/R, 1 TD) added Seventy-Four yards and a Touchdown on Three Catches against his former team. Defensively, the Rams got after their opponent, relegating them to a mere 244 Yards on Fifteen First Downs, bottling up the explosive Alvin Kamara (14 Touches, 60 YDS), while pressuring Teddy Bridgewater (17-of-30, 165 YDS, 2 SK), once he relieved the aforementioned Brees. In fact, Defensive Coordinator, Wade Phillips’, saw his charges hold New Orleans without an Offensive Touchdown for the first time since 2008. Unfortunately, this affair wasn’t without more officiating controversy, as the Referee blew a potential Strip Sack Fumble from Goff dead after the Saints’ Cameron Jordan promptly picked it up and returned it for a score. Initially ruled as an Incomplete Pass, it was in fact overturned to a Fumble, but since the play was blown dead, the Touchdown Return was negated, causing further outrage on the visiting sideline. In the end, the events of this outing could prove to be seismic for both teams moving forward, as the Rams are expected to benefit greatly by Brees’ absence, which could be up to six weeks, affording McVay & Co. the luxury potentially establishing a significant lead over a team that figured to author some of their staunchest competition moving forward.
Meanwhile, few teams entered 2019 with more hype than the Browns (1-1, T-2nd in AFC North), who after last season’s 7-8-1 finish, followed by an eventful Offseason that saw them add a slew of talented players, stand as one of, if not the most, improved teams in the league. However, we all now that the games are ultimately decided on the field, not paper, and there remains a general sense that even with an overhauled roster that Cleveland is going to need to do a lot of work to wash away decades of poor play, which was painfully evident in their embarrassing performance in the Season Opener, a 13-43 loss at home to the Tennessee Titans, their worst defeat in an Opener since returning to the league back in 1999. That particular performance featured all the hallmarks of a team that had been indulging in it’s own headlines; Eighteen Penalties for a loss of 182 Yards, a combined 1-of-12 on Third and Fourth Down, and a sloppy performance from a star Quarterback committing Three Turnovers all contributed to what could only be described as a debacle. Indeed, it was a disastrous step backward for Freddie Kitchens & Co., who were picked by many to conquer the AFC North this season, only to open up looking like the same confoundingly miserable club they had been for so long. With that said, this club has been here before, and there’s nowhere to go but up, and what better way to rehab your image in the public eye than by putting together a clinic on Monday Night Football? Granted, it certainly helps to be competing against the New York Jets, who were without a number of key contributors, most notably their Starting Quarterback, Sam Darnold, but simply put, this is the kind of game that good teams win easily, and that’s precisely what the Browns did. Monday Night’s 23-3 thumping of Gang Green at MetLife Stadium helped reaffirm confidence in Kitchens’ outfit, who saw a solid performance from their Quarterback, Baker Mayfield (60.3%, 610 YDS, 6.78 NY/A, 2 TD, 4 INT, 38.7 QBR), who completed 19-of-35 Passes for 325 Yards, a Touchdown and an Interception, connecting often with his newest toy, Odell Beckham Jr. (13 REC, 232 YDS, 17.8 Y/R, 1 TD), who went OFF in his return to the stadium where he plied his trade for the first five years of his career, hauling in Six Receptions for 161 Yards, including an 89-Yard Touchdown to break the affair wide open late in the Third Quarter. Beckham had some choice words earlier in the week in regards to Jets’ Defensive Coordinator, Gregg Williams, who was ironically the Browns’ Interim Head Coach last season, motioning to the longtime Assistant en route to reaching the End Zone. Speaking of Defense, Williams’ former charges absolutely dismantled a handicapped Jets’ unit, ending Trevor Siemian’s season on one of their Four Sacks, with Myles Garrett (10 TKL, 5 TFL, 5.0 SK, 7 QBH) routinely wrecking havoc in the Backfield, logging Three Sacks and Five Quarterback Hits. The former No. One Overall Pick has been a menace in the early stages of the campaign, totaling Five Sacks and Seven Hits on the Passer through the first two games alone. However, as solid a showing as their victory was, there are still a number of things that must be cleaned up moving forward if this group is to live up to their considerable hype. First and foremost, they must do a better job of protecting their Quarterback; Mayfield was sacked three more times on Monday Night, brining his total on the season to seven. At his height, it’s essential that he has a clean pocket to work within, for when under fire he’s shown a propensity of forcing things. Despite setting a rookie record with Twenty-Seven Touchdown Passes, his Eighteen Interceptions through his first Sixteen Starts also stands as a league record. The play of the Line has also had an effect on the ground game, with Cleveland averaging just 86.0 Yards per Game via the Run thus far (22nd Overall), which has led to dismal Third Down Percentage of 21.7% (29th Overall). Lastly, the overall discipline of this team needs to improve, and that’s on Kitchens and his Coaching Staff; the Brown have been penalized on twenty-seven occasions thus far, by far and away more than any team in the league, with more yards lost due to Penalties (267) than Rushing Yards (172). Needless to say, that needs to change in a hurry if they’re going to survive a hellish upcoming sleight of games against the likes of Rams, Ravens, 49ers, Seahawks, and Patriots, who have all began the season undefeated through two weeks of play.