ST. LOUIS — The Browns feel the Rams’ pain. And they want to exploit it.
The St. Louis Rams opened the season with great expectations that included improving on an 8-8 record in 2006 and challenging for the NFC West title. But injuries have decimated the offensive line, and the numbers reflect that. The Rams are 0-7 and have the lowest-scoring offense in the NFL.
It doesn’t matter how many Steven Jacksons, Marc Bulgers, Torry Holts and Isaac Bruces a team has if the five no-names upfront can’t keep the quarterback on his feet or give the running back a hole.
Everyone associated with the Browns knows how a bad offensive line can destroy a season. The Rams have quickly learned that painful lesson.
Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace tore a rotator cuff in Week 1, and that was just the beginning of the problems. The Rams have used 11 combinations on the line, with at least two players manning each of the five positions.
“You really have a hard time operating without a group that has been working together,” St. Louis coach Scott Linehan said. “It’s not an excuse. You have to replace them.
“If we can just put together a couple games in a row with the same group, it would really help us.”
Center Brett Romberg is out today with an ankle injury, and guard Claude Terrell was cut during the week. So this looks like the perfect opportunity for the Browns’ pass rush to come out of hibernation. They have just six sacks — 30th in the NFL — and have created little pressure.
“(Bulger’s) not very mobile,” said linebacker Antwan Peek, whose strained foot has improved. “He is a good quarterback, but he gives us a little more time to get to the quarterback. I think that’ll be good for us this week.”
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said he expects the Rams to do whatever they can to protect Bulger, including keeping in tight ends and running backs to block. Bulger already missed two games with injured ribs.
“Bulger is maybe not playing as confident as he did last year,” Grantham said. “We’ll want to get some pressure on the quarterback. With their offensive line the way it is, I’m sure they’ll want to address it and they’ll want to protect him.”
The problems along the Rams line further illustrate just how far the Browns line has come. Rookie Joe Thomas has quickly stabilized the crucial left tackle spot, and free-agent pickups Eric Steinbach and Seth McKinney have added athleticism and experience at guard.
“It’s been a pretty good group, in terms of their consistency,” general manager Phil Savage said. “That, in turn, has allowed our skill players to perform well.”
The Rams haven’t been as fortunate. Jackson missed four games with a groin injury and is averaging only 3.4 yards a carry. Bulger’s been beat up. And Holt and Bruce need a healthy quarterback to get them the ball.
“We can’t use injuries as an excuse anymore. We’ve beat that horse to death,” Jackson said.
Linebacker Andra Davis thinks the Rams are getting closer to realizing their potential.
“They’re right there,” he said. “We can’t let ’em get there.”
“They have firepower,” coach Romeo Crennel said. “We can’t take these guys lightly by any stretch of the imagination.”
The Browns are coming off their bye and eager to make a run over the final 10 games. A win today would put them at 4-3 — they haven’t been above .500 this late in the season since the playoff year of 2002 — and give them consecutive wins for the first time since 2003, a stretch of 64 games.
“It’ll be good to go back-to-back,” Crennel said. “That hasn’t been done around here in awhile. To be 3-3, that hasn’t been done around here in awhile. It’s all good. We have to take it all in stride.
“To be able to win, it will show we’re gaining confidence, gaining maturity, learning how to be a winning team.”
But Crennel isn’t getting ahead of himself. He stressed all week the necessity of staying focused on the Rams and winning a road game for the first time in three tries this year.
“If we lose it will be, ‘We took a step back and are going back to being the same old team we were before,’” he said. “It’s an opportunity for us to get our heads above water. That’s important as we go down the stretch, to have our heads above water rather than being under water.”
Reserve defensive back Kenny Wright didn’t make the trip due to personal reasons and will not play today.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.