W2W4: St. Louis Rams
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams and Cleveland Browns meet in Week 3 of the preseason Saturday night at FirstEnergy Stadium. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET. Here are three things to watch for from the Rams' end:
1. Returning starters: Last week it was quarterback Sam Bradford making his 2014 preseason debut, but five other important Rams are working their way back onto the field and could do so as early as this week. Left tackle Jake Long is expected to play for the first time since suffering a torn MCL and ACL in December 2013. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers also looks on course to bounce back from an ankle injury after doing most everything in practice this week. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins should also be back on the field after a short hiatus because of a hamstring issue. Linebacker James Laurinaitis (ankle) and guard Rodger Saffold (stinger) are less certain. Saffold has done limited work in team drills during practice but is hopeful that he'll get to play. Laurinaitis is in a similar boat but may not be pushed. We won't know who will and won't play until the game starts, but all five are worth watching either way.
2. A better idea: Rams coach Jeff Fisher has indicated his team will be a bit more active in game planning and preparation this week after an extremely vanilla approach the first two weeks. That could mean more time for the starters than either of the first two games. But just because there will be more scheming doesn't mean there will be a lot. A blitz here and there might be in the offing, but coming away with any sweeping generalizations from any preseason game (or practice, for that matter) is still not recommended. Still, the more time the starters play, the more chances we'll have to see what kind of shape the top group is in.
3. Running revival: Through the first two games, there has been plenty of caterwauling about the Rams' inability to run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense, particularly with the starting groups. While there hasn't been much game planning going on, the run game often comes down to the basics of blocking and tackling. Those two things should always be a priority and so far the Rams have struggled in those areas. Of course, plenty of teams around the league can say the same thing. On defense, the return of Laurinaitis and Brockers would go a long way toward helping stop the run. Saffold would have a similar effect on the run game. Again, there's little reason to panic about either area at this point in the preseason, but it's worth continuing to monitor as the regular season draws near.