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Rams 2011 Season Preview, Part 3: Games 9-12

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Week 10:
Rams at Browns

Bradford vs McCoy. Spags vs Shurmur. Let’s Rumble!

CLE Off, 2010: 16.9 ppg (31)
CLE Def, 2010: 20.8 ppg (13)

Last meeting: Browns 27-Rams 20 (Week 8, 2007)

Writing this article, in the days before the season kicks off, I and most other NFL fans are full of optimism, envisioning disparate pieces assembled in free agency and the draft clicking together with the team’s core talent and transformed into a finely-tuned killing machine operated with surgical skill by our genius coaching staff.

And then there are Cleveland fans. Great fans, as loyal as you can get, but twenty years without consecutive winning seasons kind of saps the joy out of preseason prognostication.

So when I talk to friends of mine who are Browns fans, and ask “So, does Shurmur call the shots or is he basically going to be Holmgrens hand puppet, do you think?” or “So, how about that Colt McCoy, is he the real deal?” or “Starting the season with the battle for Ohio… those Bengals are going down, big time!” or “So, whattya think. Good year this year?” I get the same response.

“We’ll see. They are the Browns.”

That said, I am legitimately excited about this game. Shurmur is the first Rams coordinator to be poached for a head coaching position since Lovie Smith in 2004, and the hope in Cleveland is that he can bring along Colt McCoy in his high-volume, short-target passing game and get the same magical results that he did with Sam Bradford.

Arguably, he has a better offensive line to work with, an equally talented (if less accomplished) downhill sledder in Peyton Hillis, an underrated TE target duo in Ben Watson and Evan Moore, and an undrafted scrawny slot guy in the Amendola mold named Jordan Norwood.

In an eerie sense, it will be as though the 2011 Rams get to face off against the 2010 version of themselves on offense. The part of me that geeks out over the Twilight Zone and those surreal holodeck episodes of Star Trek TNG is psyched.

Prediction: Win

Brennan: “The Shurmur bowl is a close game but the Browns are ultimately doomed by check down passes.”

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Week 11:
Rams vs Seahawks

It’s not about revenge, it’s about winning. (And revenge.)

SEA Off, 2010: 19.4 ppg (23)
SEA Def, 2010: 25.4 ppg (25)

Last meeting: Seahawks 16-Rams 6 (Week 17, 2010)

It will be a weary Rams team that arrives at Rams Park after four road games in five weeks, but one that now faces the downhill part of its schedule and should be battle-tested and ready to roll. They’ll face off against a Seattle team that, by this point in the season, could be hanging in the division race, or could be still looking for their first win.

Seriously. If it doesn’t come in week 1 against overhyped (or underrated?) San Francisco, their next strong opportunity for a W doesn’t appear until week 8 against the suck-for-luck-ing Cincinnati Bengals. Want to talk brutal schedules? Seattle fans can talk. Want to talk quarterbacks? All of a sudden they get really quiet, with a sad little pinched expression on their faces.

Even the fans that were ready to move on from Matt Hasselbeck are in a daze, watching the team start the season with only Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst, and turning their backs on the likes of David Garrard. Big Mike Williams, Sidney Rice and Golden Tate might as well bring a book to read along with them as they run routes, as whoever is taking snaps scrambles for their life behind a young patchwork offensive line.

Even if the Rams score enough points to win this game three times over, however, it won’t wash away the taste of having lost last year to a more clever and daring Seattle team playing with nothing to lose and only a playoff spot to gain. But it would be a start.

Prediction: Win

Tim: “Seahawks won’t let the Rams get in their way to winning the services of Andrew Luck. Rams in an easy one.”

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Week 12:
Rams vs Cardinals

Time to separate the contenders from the pretenders.

ARI Off, 2010: 18.1 ppg (26t)
ARI Def, 2010: 27.1 ppg (30)

Last meeting: Week 9, 2011

Let the facts show that when Arizona limped into a matchup with Kyle Orton and the Broncos, gave John Skelton his first career start, and ended a seven-game losing streak by a score of 43-13, that one wasn’t on Josh McDaniels. He’d been fired that week. (McD: Thanks for bringing that up, RamsHerd. Jerk.) 

So after a loss in the Rams and Cardinals’ first forecasted matchup this year, it would be factually incorrect to use the “third time’s the charm” line here. And besides, this coaching staff that thrives on creativity and versatility won’t need a third try to get it right. (RamsHerd: There you go, Josh. Sorry about that cheap shot earlier.)

Watching Arizona’s preseason games, one trend becomes apparent. While their offensive line isn’t particularly good, they are nearly penalty-free and are reasonably well-coached. One thing they appeared to do very well is create cutback lanes for their running backs by sealing their edges.

This will be an important ingredient in each of these matchups, and the steadily improving play of our new pair of outside linebackers as they start to jibe with Spagnuolo’s system will be just as important as a countermeasure. Take away the run, and you can go whole hog after Kolb, who has been a one-read-and-done quarterback for most of his career.

Prediction: Win 

Derek: “This time facing Arizona at home makes the difference. Now with their own scouting report on Kolb, Spags games plans to collapse the pocket on him all day.”

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Week 13:
Rams at 49ers

Rams return to a house of horrors.

SF Off, 2010: 19.1 ppg (24)
SF Def, 2010: 21.6 ppg (16)

Last meeting: Rams 25, 49ers 17 (Week 16, 2011)

For eight consecutive years spanning time in LA and STL, the Rams traveled to Candlestick and lost. Those eight years must have been all the more frustrating for Isaac Bruce, the Rams’ phenomenal receiver who could barely get press or pro bowl recognition, always considered the second-best receiver in his own division to the incomparable Jerry Rice.

Bruce and the Greatest Show Rams had a measure of revenge from 1999-2001, but since that time, those dastardly Niners have been protecting their home turf as though there was still a working gold claim somewhere in it.

Last year, Bradford and company did good work on offense to neutralize the incessant 49ers D, putting up 20 points. And their own defense almost completely shut down the Niners’ offense.

Almost.

As we wrote about last year, eleven big plays accounted for 321 of the 49ers 421 total yards on offense, and contributed to all 23 points, including the backbreaking last three that won the game in overtime. Of course, that was with the highly mobile Troy Smith scampering around and heaving balls downfield with abandon. That Mr. Smith is no longer around, and presumably when new Jim Harbaugh committed to the other Smith at quarterback, that guarantee will carry through to week 13. 

I’d like to say the Rams could win this game. I’d even like to say they should, and continue a winning streak that would put them two games over .500 for the first time since 2006. But this is a time (week 13) and a place (that wind-swept pit called Candlestick) where I’m not willing to tempt fate by saying that they will. Maybe we just need to break a few big plays of our own.

Prediction: Loss

Tim: “As much as it pains me to write this, the win streak comes to an end in San Fran.”

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