Can Browns D slow down Gurley?
Todd Gurley figures to be primed for his first home start after two spectacular efforts on the road preceded the St. Louis Rams’ bye week.
He may be licking his chops to face a Cleveland Browns defense that is the NFL’s worst in stopping the run.
The Rams, who have the league’s worst offense, figure to use a run-heavy game plan with Gurley when they host the Browns on Sunday.
Gurley, the first running back chosen in the first round in three years and No. 10 overall selection in 2015, missed the first two games following knee surgery. He gained nine yards on six carries in his debut in a 12-6 home defeat to Pittsburgh on Sept. 27 before starting the next two games and totaling 305 yards on 49 carries, though he has yet to find the end zone.
The rookie is bidding to become the third Rams running back to top 140 yards rushing in three straight games. Eric Dickerson did it in 1983 and 1984 and Marshall Faulk in 2002.
"It’s definitely coming along pretty well," Gurley said. "Like I said, just the repetition, getting the reps, getting used to it, watching film, seeing how other teams are going to play the outside zone."
Coach Jeff Fisher said Gurley is still not at 100 percent. Gurley has two rushes of at least 50 yards while the rest of the league has combined for six.
He represents a big challenge for a Cleveland defense allowing a league-worst 149.8 rushing yards per game. The Browns gave up 152 yards on the ground in last Sunday’s 26-23 overtime home loss to Denver.
"You have to want to (stop the run)," coach Mike Pettine said. "I am not saying that has been missing, but in this game, for sure, if we don’t go out there wanting to stop the run and wanting to play that street fight with them up front because that is what they are built to do and what they are going to do, then we will get embarrassed defending the run."
The run defense is a major reason why Cleveland (2-4) is ranked 30th in total defense, yielding 417.8 yards per game. Fisher called that statistic "misleading."
"You put the tape on them, watch four games, they don’t look like the 30th-ranked team on defense," he said.
St. Louis (2-3) knows it needs to find offense from someone other than Gurley. The Rams average a league-worst 309.0 yards per game, with their passing attack ranked second-worst at 183.2. Nick Foles has the league’s 29th-best passer rating at 77.6.
Kenny Britt has a team-high 183 receiving yards but has gone three straight games without a touchdown. Tavon Austin has a team-best 16 receptions but had two for six yards in a 24-10 loss to Green Bay on Oct. 11 before the bye.
"We just gotta continue to get better with our run game because that will eventually help us in the passing game," Fisher said.
It’s been four years since these teams last met, a 13-12 Rams victory, but it’s the third straight year that Cleveland’s Josh McCown will face St. Louis.
McCown threw for 352 yards and two scores in a 42-21 loss with Chicago in 2013. Last season, he amassed 179 yards in a 19-17 defeat for Tampa Bay. His completion percentage was 76.6 both times.
"I just appreciate them being on the schedule so at least I have something familiar," McCown said. "It’s the third year in a row and looking forward to it. They’re a good defense."
The Rams are tied for third in the league with 19 sacks, with Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald combining for 7 1/2. Each has one sack of McCown.
McCown will be targeting Gary Barnidge, who is the second Browns tight end with a touchdown catch in four consecutive games after scoring twice last weekend. Ozzie Newsome did it in 1981.
Travis Benjamin had career highs of nine receptions and 117 yards against the Broncos, though he has gone three straight games without a touchdown after scoring five times in the first three.
Cleveland’s secondary could again be depleted if Joe Haden misses his second straight game with a concussion and safety Tashaun Gipson misses a third straight with an ankle injury.
Quinn and fellow defensive end Chris Long did not practice Wednesday, with Long unlikely to play.
These teams have the longest active streaks of losing seasons — eight for the Rams and seven for the Browns.