Rookie running back Todd Gurley will make his first home start when the St. Louis Rams come off a bye to face the Cleveland Browns in a Week 7 matchup between a pair of two-win teams.
Gurley's emergence has been among the few positives for the Rams, who are next-to-last in the NFL in scoring (16.8 ppg) despite the rookie churning out 146 and 159 yards rushing in his last two games. St. Louis went into Arizona and handed the Cardinals their first loss and intercepted Aaron Rodgers twice in a loss at Green Bay entering the bye.
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The Browns could easily be 4-2 instead of 2-4. They carried Peyton Manning and Denver into overtime last weekend before losing 26-23 and were beaten at San Diego by a last-second field goal in Week 4. Sandwiched between those losses was an overtime victory at Baltimore in which quarterback Josh McCown threw for a team-record 457 yards.
Here are three keys to the game for both the Falcons and Saints.
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1. Do something about the run defense
Cleveland has the worst run defense in the league for the second straight year. The good news is that the Ram's offensive line was pushed around by the Packers last game. The bad news is that Gurley still rushed for 159 yards. A solution to the Browns' woes can't be expected overnight, but they need to show at least a little resistance against Gurley or it'll be curtains.
2. Neutralize Donald and Quinn
The Browns' offensive line will also have its hands full with one of the best defensive fronts in the league. Alex Mack and John Greco will likely draw the tough task of handling reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Aaron Donald while Joe Thomas will go heads up with Robert Quinn. Head coach Mike Pettine will be happy with a draw in this matchup.
3. Force Nick Foles left
Some have called Foles "Napoleon Dynamite" but he may be more Derek Zoolander due to his aversion to going left. Foles has thrown almost twice as many passes to the right side of the field than the left, and his completion percentage also drops off nearly 10 points when he passes left. The Browns should employ coverages and rushes that force Foles into looking away from his favorite side.
1. Keep feeding Todd Gurley
Rams coach Jeff Fisher admitted Gurley's 30 rushing attempts in his last game were too high, especially given that it was his third game coming off major knee surgery. Still, it will be hard to avoid the temptation to feed Gurley early and often against a run defense that is yielding a league-worst 149.8 yards per game. Not to mention GUrley is averaging 6.2 yards per carry in his two starts.
2. Ramp up the defensive pressure
St. Louis is tied for third in the league with 19 sacks and Josh McCown has been taken down 17 times over the past four games. The Rams have gone up against McCown in each of the past two season, although he was with two different teams. In those two matchups, St. Louis has registered six sacks while forcing a combined five turnovers - three interceptions and two fumbles.
3. Find a reliable receiver
The Rams have had success lining up former first-round pick Tavon Austin in the backfield to free him on pass routes and it has resulted in three touchdowns over the past two games. However, Austin has only 16 catches to lead St. Louis, which is the lone team that has yet to reach 1,000 yards passing. Wideout Kenny Britt had a 100-yard performance in Week 3 but doesn't have a catch in the last two games.