Battered Browns bid to regroup against Rams

Field Level Media

December 01, 2023 at 11:17 pm.

Banged up but unbowed, the Cleveland Browns will try to improve their positioning in the AFC playoff picture when they visit the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.

Cleveland remained out west following its 29-12 loss at Denver last Sunday. The Browns focused on getting healthy after injuries forced defensive end Myles Garrett (left shoulder), quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (concussion), wide receiver Amari Cooper (rib) and defensive end Jordan Elliott (ankle) from the game.

With Thompson-Robinson ruled out for the Rams game, the Browns will turn to veteran Joe Flacco to start Sunday.

Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski said this week that Garrett, whose 13 sacks are tied for second in the NFL, did not sustain structural damage to his shoulder. He returned to practice Friday as a full participant and carries no injury designation into Sunday.

“We have high hopes for this season and what we want to do,” Garrett said. “Nothing like this is going to hold us back or me back.”

Meanwhile, cornerback Denzel Ward (shoulder) and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (concussion) were ruled out for Sunday. Center Nick Harris (knee) is questionable. Cooper and Elliott are expected to play.

The Browns (7-4) hold the No. 6 seed in the AFC, one game clear of the seventh-seeded Indianapolis Colts.

While the likely return of Garrett provides a boost to the defense, things are less settled on the other side of the ball. Thompson-Robinson, a rookie who stepped in when Deshaun Watson underwent season-ending surgery on his throwing shoulder, left against the Broncos following a hard hit by Baron Browning.

Denver collected four sacks against Browns backup P.J. Walker, including one for a safety. Thompson-Robinson did not practice all week as he progresses through the concussion protocol and was ruled out for Sunday.

Given Walker’s ineffectiveness (6-for-13, 56 yards), the team announced Friday that Flacco, 38, has been given the reins of the attack. Flacco, who signed with the team less than two weeks ago following Watson’s shoulder injury, took first-team reps this week.

“He just loves football. You hear some of the stories he’s been a part of,” Browns offensive guard Joel Bitonio said. “Obviously, we played against him a bunch when he was in Baltimore and last year with the Jets, but it’s good to have a veteran presence.”

The Rams (5-6) can attest to the importance of seasoning under center. Healthy after spraining a right thumb ligament in a Week 8 loss at Dallas, quarterback Matthew Stafford has steered Los Angeles to consecutive victories for the first time this season.

In last Sunday’s 37-14 win against the Arizona Cardinals, Stafford passed for 229 yards and a season-best four touchdowns — two each to Kyren Williams and tight end Tyler Higbee.

Williams, who had missed the previous four games with an ankle injury, earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors after rushing for 143 yards to go with his 61 receiving yards.

Los Angeles has regrouped from a three-game losing streak to move a half-game behind the Minnesota Vikings for the final NFC playoff spot.

“The consistent approach has been, if you take care of your business, then that (postseason) conversation continues on,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “And so there’s still a lot of football left to be played, there’s still a lot of things that we have to do to continue to take steps in the right direction. … We know it’s going to be a great challenge against a team that has done an excellent job.”

Rams cornerback Quentin Lake (hamstring) was ruled out for Sunday. Linebacker Michael Hoecht (knee) is questionable.