The Browns spent Week 13 out in Los Angeles, preparing for their matchup against the Rams. They practiced all week at UCLA and heard from NBA Jerry West early in the week. Certain position groups went out to team dinners and the team spent time together as they prepared.
"I was pleased with what the guys – they're locked in," HC Kevin Stefanski said. "I thought really, this entire week they've been very locked in."
Now, the Browns will wrap up their West Coast road trip with their game against the Rams. Let's look at three keys to Sunday's game for the Browns.
Limit QB Matthew Stafford and the passing game
The Browns defense, which has been a force all season, will have a challenge with QB Matthew Stafford running the Rams offense.
This season, Stafford has completed 208 of 342 passes for 2,489 yards and 13 touchdowns. He has nine interceptions this season and been sacked 20 times. This season, Stafford has an adjusted QBR of 56.8, which is ranked 14th in the league. Stafford can spread the ball around to different players and find his open pass catchers.
DC Jim Schwartz knows what Stafford brings to the table. When Schwartz was the head coach for the Lions, Stafford was his first quarterback as a head coach in 2009. Schwartz said that Stafford can make all the necessary throws and has an arm that can drop different arm angles. He throws the ball with accuracy and has a command of the offense. Stafford also knows how to use his eyes, where he can look defenders off.
"Well, he's one of the best throwers of the football, number one in the league right now," Schwartz said. "You know the sort of the no look pass thing that gets a lot of attention from different quarterbacks in the league – Matthew's been doing that for a long time. I'm proud of where he's going. He's developed not just as a player but as a leader. And we're going to play our very best on Sunday to come out with a win."
Stefanski also saw Stafford in the NFC North when he was with the Vikings and see how Stafford is playing at a high level. Stefanski said that the Rams succeed in marrying the run and the pass game. They run their play actions and their keepers and use the drop back game to their advantage.
"I think he's playing better than he ever has in his career," Stefanski said. "I think he's just seeing it. He's physically so gifted. Just a great, smart football player. Really good players around him. They make life really hard with the things that they do on offense."
Stop the Rams' run game and RB Kyren Williams
The Rams' run game is ranked middle-of-the-pack at 15th in the league with 1,254 total rushing yards. They average 4.3 yards per carry and have a total of 11 rushing touchdowns, which is 12th in the league.
However, they have a true threat in the backfield that could cause issues for the Browns run defense. RB Kyren Wiliams has rushed for 599 yards on 113 carries this season. He also has six touchdowns. S Grant Delpit described Williams as a downhill runner who runs the ball hard.
In his last two games, Williams rushed for over 100 yards. In Week 6, Williams rushed for 158 yards on 20 carries and one touchdown. Then, in Week 12, he rushed for 143 yards on 16 carries.
"He has big play potential," Stefanski said. "When it's blocked well, he can really go. If it's not blocked, he can make plays on his own. He's an impressive player. He has our attention. And you just watch the tape from last week. He jumps off the tape."
While the Rams' run game isn't the main element of their offense, Delpit said that they have to use that to their advantage and stop their run game.
Combat DT Aaron Donald and the Rams defensive line
When looking at the tape of the Rams, OC Alex Van Pelt said that DT Aaron Donald commands a high level of attention. The Browns offensive line will have to combat against what he can do on the line.
"He's going to be on both guards," Van Pelt. "Heck, he'll be out on the edges. They move him around based on where they think he can get a matchup. We're going to have to be very diligent with our understanding of where he is and how it affects everything with us. Excited to see our guards when they do get a chance to block him, to block him. I think our guards are really good players for us, so that matchup is going to be fun to watch."
This season, Donald has 38 total tackles, with 20 solo tackles. He also has 5.5 sacks and one pass defended.
G Joel Bitonio was in the same draft class as Donald in 2014. They played with one another in the Senior Bowl, but Bitonio said that he was playing tackle, so he didn't get to block him at the time. Since their time in the league, Bitonio said that he's played against Donald twice in the regular season and once in a preseason game.
"I mean, great player," Bitonio said. "Probably, in my opinion, still the best defensive tackle in the game. Just his explosiveness, his pass rush arsenal. Very good player. He's someone we have to have a plan for this week."
While Donald commands much attention, Bitonio said there are also a handful of younger players that are playing hard and making plays. They try and get Donald in one-on-one situations as much as possible, which creates a tough matchup.
"They're playing within themselves, and I think they're playing pretty complementary with their offense right now," Bitonio said. "They've won a couple in a row, so it's going to be a big challenge for us."