A look at Sunday's game between Cleveland and St. Louis.
Bottom line, up high:
This could the biggest game of Head Coach Romeo Crennel’s run with the Browns. Win and he has a 4-3 playoff contender and excellent prospects for survival. Lose to an 0-7 team, and his “same old Browns” put him back on thin ice.
St. Louis Head Coach Scott Linehan is in an awful spot, trying to convince a winless, injury-depleted team that a game against Cleveland matters. Crennel’s players can sink their teeth into his cause. Linehan’s team might be in every-man-for-himself mode.
Cleveland’s pass rush vs. QB Marc Bulger
The Browns average a feeble one sack a game. Kamerion Wimbley could start getting help from Antwan Peek, whose foot injury has healed, and Willie McGinest, back in gear after back surgery. In his last game, Bulger was sacked five times and fumbled twice. His protection was a mess even before center Brett Romberg went down with the latest among a series of line injuries. A Pro Bowler last season, Bulger is getting battered this year.
Other key matchups:
Browns’ front seven vs. RB Steven Jackson
Jackson is big and fast and is most definitely the Rams’ ticket to a possible win. Three big questions are in play. Is Jackson recovered from the groin problem that cost him the last four games? Is his line so far gone that Godzilla couldn’t gain 3 yards? Did the Browns clean up their tackling and discipline problems that got them a No. 32 rank in team defense?
Browns CBs Leigh Bodden and Eric Wright vs. WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce
Bodden believes he is rounding into Pro Bowl form, but he wasn’t among those Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham mentioned Friday as playing well. Wright, the rookie, was. Grantham seems comfortable assigning Wright to the opponent’s top wideout, as he did with Randy Moss at New England. Keep an eye on how much Wright covers Holt man to man. Bruce, almost 35, is a possession guy now.
Rams run defense vs. ... who?
Star end Leonard Little has been limping around with a big toe injury, and the linebacking corps is ordinary outside of maybe Will Weatherspoon. The Rams aren’t playing run defense much better than Cleveland. The Browns, though, might not have No. 1 back Jamal Lewis (sprained foot) for a third straight game, although he said Friday, “Of course I want to play.” On a fast track in a dome, this could be an ideal week to let change-of-pace back Jerome Harrison build on his promising game against Miami.
Rams pass rush vs. QB Derek Anderson
St. Louis hasn’t left anyone black and blue with 10 sacks in seven games. Anderson has used his protection well, taking only six sacks in six games. This could be one of those days when he makes Brady Quinn wonder if he got drafted by the wrong team.
Prediction: Browns, 31-17