In case you haven’t heard, the Browns (1-1) host the Los Angeles Rams (2-0) on Sunday night at FirstEnergy Stadium in downtown Cleveland.
The lights will be bright, the fireworks explosive and the excitement palpable. If you thought Week 1 was energetic, just wait until the moments before kickoff this weekend.
Once the game starts, though, it will be on the 11 men on the field clad in brown and orange to make the plays necessary to win. As football often is, this will be a matchup game.
We’re here to deliver the matchup you should watch closest Sunday night.
Matchup to Watch: Rams receivers vs. Browns defensive backs
A quick look at the Browns’ injury report reveals some major names who are either out (safety Damarious Randall, for one) or are questionable with at least semi-serious concern attached to them. Cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams — Cleveland’s starting tandem — were late additions to the report on Thursday with hamstring injuries and did not participate Friday, calling their status into question.
Their replacements would presumably be Terrance Mitchell, who is essentially another No. 2 corner, and T.J. Carrie, who has seen most of his activity in the slot. Both are veterans who are capable of stepping in and performing, but they’re facing quite a challenge this week.
The Los Angeles Rams are one of the NFL’s leading offenses in both statistics and imagination. Wunderkind head coach Sean McVay captivated the nation early in his tenure with the Rams and has only built upon it with his ambitious offensive schemes. He might get a bit of a break thanks to the Browns’ health issues, something he already didn’t need to begin with.
That will shift more responsibility onto the shoulders of such corners, as well as depth players Tavierre Thomas and Robert Jackson, the latter of who was promoted to the active roster Friday. With Randall out and fellow veteran safety Morgan Burnett (quad) questionable, more of the onus will also fall on the shoulders of the team’s younger safeties: Eric Murray and Jermaine Whitehead.
Check out photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Rams Sunday by team photographer Matt Starkey
“The guys that are there, I expect to show up, play well and to compete every snap," head coach Freddie Kitchens said Friday. "We have a bunch of guys back there with a lot of experience. We have had good depth back there. I expect them to play well. They expect to play well.”
Simply, the Browns are thinning out on the back end, and it’s not the best time for it.
Not with the arrival of a team featuring deep threat Brandin Cooks, reliable do-everything wideout Robert Woods and bigger-bodied in-between target Cooper Kupp, who ripped off a 66-yard reception that ran in every highlight reel across the country last weekend. And not with the arrival of a head coach who routinely schemes up creative offenses that exploit an opponent’s weaknesses.
There might be a couple more than usual this weekend for the Browns.
That’s why this matchup is most important. A player in the NFL is qualified to step onto an NFL field and battle the opponent. It’s a rare group to just be a part of, and even rarer to be a premier player in this league. Cleveland’s replacements are capable of doing a good job.
But they’ll have to mix aggressive and disciplined play to neutralize Los Angeles’ attack, forcing a turnover or two to help account for the absences of key defensive playmakers. Carrie and Mitchell stand a good chance to surprise some folks; the safeties will need to follow suit.