The St. Louis Rams and Cleveland Browns are both 0-2 thus far into the 2014 NFL preseason and will oppose each other on Saturday in Cleveland looking for their first wins respectively. Week 3 of the preseason is historically when the first-team players spend the most time together in the game as a unit, making this matchup incredibly important for each franchise.
St. Louis put on two mediocre shows against the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers and have a lot to work on, particularly in pass protection as they have already given up 11 sacks. This must change in a jiffy if they intend on keeping QB Sam Bradford healthy all season.
LT Jake Long should see his first action of the preseason after having ACL surgery in January, and that is one encouraging factor in hopes of fortifying their offensive line in 2014. RB Tre Mason has struggled in pass protection and will undoubtedly see more opportunities to redeem himself.
It will be the longest live action time Bradford has spent with his mainly inexperienced and unproven receiving corps, and the unit must find ways to gel. We all know what Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt are capable of and so does St. Louis, so the focus will be on the third, fourth and fifth-stringers; particularly Stedman Bailey, Chris Givens, Austin Pettis and Brian Quick, who all are talented but have yet to separate themselves from the pack and are looked at on the same plain currently.
It seems like OC Brian Schottenheimer wants Bailey to emerge as the team’s prime deep threat as he has been getting the majority of downfield looks thus far, followed by Givens.
Zac Stacy is essentially guaranteed the starting RB job, and with Isaiah Pead‘s recent torn ACL injury, St. Louis’ backfield is not under much debate.
The Rams’ defense, particularly their defensive line, is among the best in the NFL led by arguably the top player in the game in Robert Quinn on one edge, with the dynamic Chris Long on the other. Rookie DT Aaron Donald will benefit greatly from the Rams’ DE duo, but he likely needs another strong showing against Cleveland to solidify a starting role over Michael Brockers.
Michael Sam and Ethan Westbrooks are both fighting for one of the final spots on the defensive line depth chart, and they have the opportunity to one up each other with strong showings against Cleveland’s mediocre offensive line and running game.
Rookie DB Lamarcus Joyner has been fun to follow during the preseason, and it’s worth the time to keep an eye on him against the Browns in order to see how he monitors their quarterbacks.
Shifting to the Browns, it’s obvious where the majority of the attention will be with Johnny Manziel still in a battle with Brian Hoyer for the starting QB position. Neither of the two particularly stood out against the Washington Redskins in Week 2 and could each give themselves a leg up with a good showing against the Rams.
With Josh Gordon‘s suspension still looming, Cleveland is in need of identifying which WRs will step up in his absence, as TE Jordan Cameron is stellar but cannot do it all by himself. Miles Austin has the most experience and has a solid chance of cementing a large role in the Browns’ offense with a good performance in Week 3.
The Browns will look to give Bradford fits by shutting down his WRs with their stellar secondary, led by Joe Haden and the rookie Justin Gilbert who is fighting with Buster Skrine for a starting role. Skrine underwent a recent thumb surgery but is expected to be ready for the regular season opener. It will be interesting to see which player focuses mainly on shutdown coverage and which takes some chances at interceptions.
Running back Ben Tate was brought to Cleveland to be the featured back and doesn’t have a ton of competition, but Terrance West and Chris Ogbonnaya could cut into his carries with strong outings against the Rams.
Rams vs. Browns is one of the most interesting games of the week considering all the jobs that are still wide open on each roster. Don’t miss out.