February 27, 2024

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford knows what and — perhaps more compellingly — who he will be up against Sunday versus the Cleveland Browns.

One of the NFL’s top defenses is designed by coordinator Jim Schwartz, Stafford’s first coach with the Detroit Lions.

“He’s one of the best, if not the best kind of mind out there on defense,” Stafford said Wednesday.

Stafford, a 15th-year pro, played five seasons under Schwartz after the Lions made him the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NFL draft.

The Lions finished 2-14 and 6-10 the first two seasons but were 10-6 in 2011 and made the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons. However, after going a combined 11-21 the next two seasons, Schwartz was fired.

Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz talks to his quarterback, Matthew Stafford, in 2012.

Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz talks to his quarterback, Matthew Stafford, in 2012.

(Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

Stafford played seven more seasons for the Lions before he was traded to the Rams in 2021. Schwartz coached for the Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles and Tennessee Titans before he joined the Browns this season.

“I was grateful for the opportunity” to play for Schwartz, Stafford said. “Obviously, he believed in me enough to draft me and bring me in there. … A lot of respect for him as a coach and a person.

“Always a tough battle going up against him and his defenses.”

The Browns, led by ends Myles Garrett and Za’Darius Smith, are giving up a league-low 247.9 yards and a league-low 142 yards passing per game. They rank seventh in points given up (19 per game), 12th in rushing defense (105.9 yards per game).

So it will be a challenge for Stafford and a Rams team coming off a 37-14 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Stafford completed 25 of 33 passes for 229 yards and four touchdowns with an interception in a win that gave the Rams a modest two-game winning streak, improved their record to 5-6 and put them squarely in the NFC playoff hunt.

It marked the 16th time in 208 regular-season and playoff starts that Stafford passed for at least four touchdowns. It was his first four-touchdown performance since Oct. 17, 2021 in a victory over the New York Giants.

This time he did it with a right thumb ligament that is not completely healed from the injury he sustained against the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 29.

Stafford sat out the Rams’ defeat to the Green Bay Packers, but returned after the Rams’ off week and led a fourth-quarter comeback for a 17-16 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. Against the Cardinals, Stafford connected with receiver Tutu Atwell for a 42-yard gain and threw two touchdown passes to both tight end Tyler Higbee and running back Kyren Williams.

With six games left, the Rams’ training staff continues to tape and manage support of Stafford’s thumb.

“It’s not all the way back,” said Stafford, who has passed for 13 touchdowns with nine interceptions, “but it’s definitely trending in the right direction.”

Stafford might not be the only veteran quarterback starting Sunday.

The Browns (7-4), coming off a 29-12 defeat to the Denver Broncos, appear to be on the verge of starting Joe Flacco. Deshaun Watson is out because of a shoulder injury, and Dorian Thompson-Robinson is in concussion protocol.

P.J. Walker started two games this season, but the Browns this week signed the 38-year-old Flacco, who began his NFL career a year before Stafford and won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens to cap the 2012 season.

“You never know what their approach is with Joe,” Rams coach Sean McVay said, “so we’ve got to be ready for all of them.”

Flacco played 11 seasons for the Ravens, one for the Broncos and three for the New York Jets. He is 3-14 as a starter in the last five seasons.

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