John Madden
John Madden
Browns could win despite issues
By John Madden

On Monday night, the St. Louis Rams are playing to keep themselves in contention for the NFC West crown, a possible first-round bye in the playoffs, and the chance to host a playoff game. Shouldn't be too tough against the troubled 4-8 Cleveland Browns, right?

Well, think again because in the NFL, there's no such thing as a sure thing. Remember, Cleveland is a great football town and in the Browns' first Monday Night Football appearance in eight years, anything can happen.

Marshall Faulk
Marshall Faulk's success fuels the Rams.
The Rams have positioned themselves perfectly for a successful playoff run. They've played well enough throughout the season to rise to the top of the NFC West, and are now making a final push during the last four weeks. It's the perfect time to grab some momentum and head into the post season. All that's left is beating out the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC best record and getting home field advantage.

Certainly, you don't get any prizes for having the best record or the division lead. But at this time of year, it's a much more favorable position to be in ... considering the alternative.

After being sidelined for six weeks because of multiple injuries, the return of Marshall Faulk has been huge for the Rams. Without him, the Rams were a very different team. Faulk is not only the Rams' featured back, he's also a weapon as a receiver, which is an important element of the Rams' offensive scheme. Faulk's ability to both run and catch creates favorable mismatches for St. Louis.

Head coach Mike Martz isn't satisfied unless he's able to throw the ball all over the field. And he isn't happy unless he's able to utilize all of his offensive weapons including Faulk and WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. The Rams offensive line has come a long way to enable Marc Bulger and Co. to meet Martz' expectations. With the addition of OL Kyle Turley, that line has become one of the NFL's best.

Bulger has been a big playmaker all season. Sure, he's had some games he'd probably like to have back, but overall, he's been a steady performer. He's done whatever it takes to lead the Rams to a successful record.

The Rams speedy defense has also shown improvement from last season. Defensive end Leonard Little is one of the most underrated defensemen in the league. When it comes to pass rushers, Little is at the top of the list.

Meanwhile, the Browns have run into some hard times. Having two quarterbacks, who've both seen a lot of playing time (neither with consistent success), has at times created volatile situations. Sometimes, you just have to pick a guy and stand behind him.

For example, last week Kelly Holcomb started against the Seattle Seahawks. Then, down 17-0 at the half, Butch Davis decided to bench Holcomb and play Tim Couch. But when Couch went down with a sprained knee after his second series, Holcomb was forced back into the game. It might not always be the right guy, but it's imperative to have one guy that you can count on to be your team's every-down quarterback.

To compound matters, the Browns' No. 1 running back, William Green, has endured numerous off-the-field issues. In addition to domestic issues, the league extended Green's four-game suspension for violating its substance-abuse policy, and it doesn't look as if he'll be returning this season.

Against the Rams' high-powered offense, the Browns' defensive play will be key on Monday night. They'll no doubt come out fighting. As long as pride is on the line, the Browns will battle to the end. And they just might be a spoiler for the Rams' run.
Game Plans: Rams at Browns
Ron Jaworski and Sean Salisbury go ...

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