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St. Louis Rams vs. Cleveland Browns: Rams Week 3 Game Preview

Steven GerwelContributor IIIAugust 22, 2014

St. Louis Rams vs. Cleveland Browns: Rams Week 3 Game Preview

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    Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    The St. Louis Rams are coming off back-to-back preseason home losses, and now it's time to hit the road for the first time in 2014 against the Cleveland Browns

    The third preseason game is historically the most exciting. It's the exhibition where coaches typically play the starters for the entire first half, which gives us a nice dose of legitimate NFL football. 

    The Rams faced two high-octane offensive teams in the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers for the first two preseason contests, so expect a better performance by the St. Louis defense against a more modest Cleveland offense. 

    The game will kick off at 8 p.m. ET. Check your local listings to see if the game is airing in your area. 

    As you watch the game, be sure to check back and follow our live blog, which will provide commentary and analysis throughout the game. 

Rams Week 2 Recap

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Rams suffered a rather uneventful 21-7 loss to the Packers last week, but the first-team offense produced better than the final score indicates. 

    Sam Bradford, in his first game back from his knee injury over 300 days ago, looked the part of a starting quarterback. He went 9-of-12 (75 percent) with 101 yards and a touchdown pass. 

    Wide receiver Brian Quick also showed up with a much-needed big game. He recorded a 41-yard catch and drew a pass-interference penalty on the next play, which set up the team's only score. 

    The run game was rather stale. Starter Zac Stacy picked up just six yards in six carries, and backs struggled to cross the line of scrimmage against Green Bay's first-team defense. 

    The St. Louis defense was not running on all cylinders either. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers punished the secondary for 128 yards in just over a quarter, and Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy secured 25 yards on just five carries.

    NFL teams do not wish to show all their cards before the start of the regular season. It's common for teams to hold back in the preseason and focus on the basics, which could explain the sloppy play from the two units that are supposedly strengths for St. Louis this year (defense and the run game).

    The Rams will continue to utilize the vanilla playbook for the remainder of the preseason, but that doesn't mean they won't attempt to correct these problems in the final preseason games. As you watch this week, be sure to focus on these issues and observe any changes.  

News and Notes

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Rams running back Isaiah Pead tore his ACL against Green Bay and has been placed on injured reserve, per ESPN's Nick Wagoner. 

    Pead isn't the only one banged up. Barrett Jones' back injury hasn't been as widely reported, but that's another key injury to keep an eye on. 

    Jones underwent a minor back surgery and will be out for several weeks, although no specific time table has been made public. 

    On a positive note, it appears cornerback E.J. Gaines will be back in the lineup, per Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Gaines had a solid debut during the preseason opener but was held out last week. His return should solidify the secondary for the second-team defense. 

Injury Report

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    Tom Gannam/Associated Press

    The injuries listed here can be found at ESPN.com, and the list will likely be updated as we get closer to kickoff. 

     

    Injury Report

    WR Kenny Britt, Shoulder (Probable)

    RB Isaiah Pead, Knee (Out, Injured Reserve)

    T Rodger Saffold, Shoulder (Probable)

    OL Barrett Jones, Back (Out)

Factors and Matchups to Watch

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    Johnny Football Provides Much-Needed Practice for St. Louis Defense

    While rookie Johnny Manziel has yet to climb the ladder to success and is hardly a renowned NFL passer, his scrambling abilities will provide a great service for the St. Louis defense. 

    The Rams face both Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson twice a year. As a result, their defense must be able to contain scrambling quarterbacks at all costs.

    Manziel is great with his legs and will give them some much-needed practice. In fact, don't be surprised if a handful of first-team defenders stay in longer than expected simply to get reps against Manziel. 

     

    Brian Quick vs. Joe Haden

    Rams receiver Brian Quick made some big plays against Green Bay, but it'll be interesting to see if he's capable of doing the same against one of the NFL's best cornerbacks in Joe Haden. 

    If the hype is to be believed and Quick is actually on the brink of a breakout, he'll need to prove it against top competition. This could be his first chance. 

     

    Cleveland Run Game vs. Rams Defense

    The Rams have basically been incapable of stopping the run this preseason, which is quite a surprise considering the St. Louis defense was primarily built to stop the run. 

    Browns running back Ben Tate gave the Washington Redskins a hard time last week after carrying the ball 10 times and averaging over five yards a pop. He'll give the Rams a nice test this week. 

Prediction

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    Tom Gannam/Associated Press

    Predicting preseason scores and outcomes is even more erratic than predicting regular-season results, but we'll give it a shot regardless. 

    The backup Rams quarterbacks had a very poor performance a week ago. Combined, they finished just 7-of-16 for under 100 yards and zero touchdowns. This is not a positive sign, so expect the offense to try to establish a better rhythm in the passing game with the backups. 

    As a result, there's a chance the Rams will air it out more than they did a week ago, which could result in more overall points. 

    Also, the starting defense will likely want some reps against a scrambling quarterback, such as Manziel, as it will better prepare it for the running quarterbacks in the NFC West. This could result in the starting defense remaining in the game longer than usual, which should benefit the Rams. 

    Overall, after two preseason losses and inconsistent play on both sides of the ball, expect the Rams to kick it up a notch in Cleveland. 

    Prediction: St. Louis Rams 28, Cleveland Browns 17

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