CLEVELAND — There is no rest for the weary in the National Football League, not at least for the Cleveland Browns.
Fresh off of their first Monday Night Football appearance in nearly four years, a 23-3 win over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium, the Browns returned home and immediately began preparations for their return to Sunday Night Football after an 11-year absence and what awaits is a game against the reigning NFC Champion Los Angeles Rams.
The Browns have not played on the NBC featured game of the week since the 2008 season, and in that prime time spotlight, history has not been good to Cleveland. The Browns are just 1-9 in their 10 appearances on Sunday Night Football with the lone win, a 33-13 road victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, coming on October 5, 2003.
Here are three things to watch for during tonight’s game between the Browns and Rams.
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield wants to help his teammates make more plays on game day, and he has an idea of how to do that.
As the Browns readied themselves for their return to Sunday Night Football, Mayfield was focused on doing what is necessary to get the ball to his playmakers quicker.
“Mechanics,” Mayfield said of what he goes back to in order to improve accuracy. “It goes back to getting the basics down, not getting ahead of my feet and making sure I am in the right place at the right time. Get my feet going and my eyes will follow.”
Mayfield completed 19 of his 35 attempts for 325 yards and one touchdown, an 89-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., against one interception at the Jets. Mayfield found Beckham Jr. with six passes for 161 yards and the touchdown.
“It falls back on me just playing better, getting the ball out and getting completions like I keep harping on,” Mayfield said. “Just trusting the system…Just trust and do my job.”
Rams DT Aaron Donald
Although the offense gets the credit for the Rams’ run of success over the last two-plus years, defensive tackle Aaron Donald is one of the key cogs for the team and the Browns know they are in for quite the challenge tonight.
“He is the best player in the league,” offensive lineman Joel Bitonio said. “He is strong against the run. He is strong against the pass. He does everything well. People say coming out, he was undersized slightly and things like that, but he has all of the power you need to play that position and all of the leverage you need.”
Despite having only two tackles through the first two weeks of the 2019 season, Donald is one of the most disruptive defenders in the NFL, and has a penchant for getting into the backfield and wreaking havoc.
In five-plus seasons with the Rams, Donald has recorded 59.5 sacks, including a league-best 20.5 during the 2018 season.
“He is a monster,” running back Nick Chubb said. “He is a beast. Every play, he is going full speed, 100 miles per hour. He is hard to stop. We have to do our best every play to make sure we have someone on him and someone to try and slow him down.”
Diverse corps of receivers
Rams quarterback Jared Goff has no shortage of talent surrounding him at the skill positions, and just about every one of his receivers does something unique that allows them to experience success.
From Cooper Kupp’s solid catching abilities in the short passing game to Brandin Cooks’ breakaway speed and Robert Woods’ receiving and rushing skills, the Rams have a little bit of everything at wide receiver heading into their game against the Browns.
Currently, Kupp leads the Rams with 12 catches for 166 yards and has a 13.8 yards-per-reception average with a long play of 66 yards, while Woods has turned his 13 touches into 128 yards. Cooks has gained 113 yards and one touchdown on five receptions.
“Everybody knows this is a big challenge this week,” Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said. “Offensively, they have a great quarterback and very diverse receivers that cause problems in different areas. They have a running back that can catch the ball out of the backfield, can run between the tackles and has great speed on the outside.”