Game #8 Preview – Chargers @ Browns
Back to the friendly confines of Cleveland Browns Stadium; the team heads home for a couple games before their bye week. Up next is the San Diego Chargers, who will be coming off their own bye week – the veteran team is seeking to get over their recent loss against the Broncos. However, the Browns’ opponent is also facing allegations of using stick‘em; an illegal adhesive that receivers use to allow them to hold onto the football. The storylines are there for a contest that many may not follow.
Offense: I would be surprised if the Browns switched up their offensive philosophy this week. Brandon Weeden continues to get better each week and the upcoming opponent has had its issues against the pass. The Chargers allowed over 300 yards and three touchdowns in their most recent game two weeks ago. Granted that was against Peyton Manning, but I believe the Browns can have similar results on Sunday. The deeper passes we saw to Greg Little and Josh Gordon should continue – they were successful (for the most part) last week. Additionally, the shorter throws to Josh Cooper and Travis Benjamin were efficient as well; the crafty receivers were able to find an open space on the field and run away from defenders. Unfortunately, the opponents have a better secondary than the Colts and the wide receivers will face a sizeable challenge. I hope the Browns refuse to play conservatively though; they only way they will get better (and more importantly see success) is to take chances and try for the “big play”.
The status of Trent Richardson will determine whether the Browns run the football a fair amount or just sparingly. When given opportunities in the past two games, the rookie was not running the way most were expecting. Plays appeared to be wasted, as the team was unable to move the football. If Richardson does not look to be near full health (in this week’s practice), I would rather see the Browns activate Brandon Jackson to complement Hardesty and Ogbonnaya. The team could then employ a steady rotation, giving the offense a few options while keeping the opponent guessing. In their last game, the Chargers largely shut down the Broncos running game (fifty-seven total yards), but that was likely due to the team needing to pass as they trailed the entire first half. Worst-case scenario – I look for efficiency out of the Browns’ running attack (i.e. preventing the team from 3rd and ten, etc). If one of the rushers can bust a long run, that is an added bonus. Also, if that occurs, I look forward to Shurmur sticking with that player, as the potential for further success would be present.
Facing the likes of Eric Weddle, Quentin Jammer, and Antoine Cason – Peyton Manning was able to hit three different wide receivers for touchdowns. This can be comforting for Browns fans, as it demonstrates that the Chargers can be thrown upon despite having an overall skilled unit. I love the way the Browns’ coaches are calling plays that tailor to the strengths of the receivers. Josh Gordon is a burner and can catches deep passes, while Josh Cooper may not be the fastest on the team but he can run precise routes and get open consistently. Coming off one of his better performances, the Browns should continue to employ Greg Little in the offensive game plan. The team looks like they finally have a guy or two that can stretch the field, while the younger veteran appears to be a beneficiary – making plays on under routes. Each game Mohammed Massaquoi misses, the chances that he will be re-signed at the end of the year is reduced. I want to see the University of Georgia product come out with fire and passion and give the team a reliable target, but he must be healthy for that to be possible. It’s imperative the tight ends must make the most when passes come their way, especially in the red zone. An added touchdown from Jordan Cameron or Ben Watson would be huge for the offense.
In terms of pressuring quarterbacks, it appears to be Jekyll and Hyde for the defense of the Chargers – they had no sacks two weeks ago and three in the prior contest. Shaun Phillips, Jarrett Johnson, and long-time veteran Takeo Spikes have been heading up this department in 2012. The offensive line for the Browns has been doing their job well the past few games; Weeden has been able to get passes away without fear of being hounded by defenders. Alex Smith (provided he is activated this week) may be used to help out with rushing linebackers coming off the edge. I want to see this unit push back the defenders on running plays – openings can be made for Hardesty, Ogbonnaya, and whomever else is carrying the ball. You have to go back a few weeks, but Jamaal Charles had a solid contest a few weeks ago against the Chargers (eighty-eight yards and a touchdown).
Defense: Seeing what the Colts were able to do last week, fantasy football owners of Ryan Mathews will (more than likely) be excited for this week’s matchup. The running back has been averaging just over sixty yards on the ground and thirty receiving yards per game this season. He and veteran Ronnie Brown make up an attack that could create difficulties for the Browns’ front seven. There are two ways the team can force their opponent to throw the ball on almost every play – stop the run and get a lead. Second-year pro Phil Taylor is returning from injury and practicing this week, but unfortunately he will not play. As a result, the rest of the front four must improve and do it quickly for the former to come true. Outside of the Giants’ game, the latter has not been seen this year. Among the disappointment of the defense, the Browns have not put much pressure on opposing quarterbacks. This can happen; as Rivers was taken down four times last game. Jabaal Sheard and Frostee Rucker must play the part of Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller though, which is a very tall order.
Antonio Gates continues to be one of the best tight ends in the game and is the number-one threat in the Chargers’ passing game. The linebackers will have their hands full and there’s a good chance they give up a big play or two to the Kent State alum. Craig Robertson, who may have the task of guarding Gates, has made a couple plays in the passing game but has also looked slow while covering receivers. I hope the Browns shade the safeties toward that side to help Robertson out in these situations. D’Qwell Jackson and James Michael-Johnson did not play exceptionally last week. There’s a good chance the two will be coached to focus more on stopping the run – I want to see them getting around offensive linemen and making crucial stops. Overall, the Chargers have shown an ability to score points in bunches as well as being stagnant for long stretches. The latter starts with the defense keeping their opponent out of rhythm – beginning with the quarterback.
Philip Rivers is the wildcard in this contest; forcing him into mistakes will be one of the biggest keys to victory (for the Browns). He threw four interceptions in his last contest – one was returned for a touchdown. The veteran has been susceptible to these over the last couple of years, and the defense must capitalize. Pressure from the secondary will be very important – I liked the corner blitz used last week; it was effective (leading to a turnover). I hope these continue for the Browns; utilized properly and the opponent will have less time to run their routes and make plays. Last week, the team played well in defending the pass – an eye will be kept on this aspect of the game to see whether they keep it up or take a step backwards. Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown must render the top two leading targets (Michael Floyd and Robert Meachem) ineffective. Buster Skrine, T.J. Ward, and Usama Young are a few athletes who must continue their solid play – they did well last week but will have to come up in run support and stop a marginal receiver like Eddie Royal.
Special Teams: It seems when it rains, it pours, for the special teams. When one group is not doing its job, other units miss assignments as well. They must be very close to flawless in this match-up, as the Browns are expected to have their issues both offensively and defensively. The coverage units have somewhat cleaned up their act – if a silver lining exists. The special teams must now eliminate their mistakes (i.e. penalties, blown assignments, etc.) that have plagued this team.
Coaching: After it appeared Shurmur managed the offense well against the Bengals, the opposite occurred last week. I hope the staff can find the weaknesses in the Chargers’ defense in order to gauge a proper plan of attack. More importantly, I hope the coach takes risks (especially in critical spots) in terms of play calling. Defensively, I want the Browns to make it miserable for Philip Rivers. He has lost games as a result of not having time to throw – the defense must do its part.
Prediction (My Record: 4-3): I see Weeden and the offense continuing to progress and putting up some points, even if Richardson does not play. I think the run defense will struggle once again while Phil Taylor sits out. The Chargers will pull this one out 31 – 27 and the Browns’ frustrations continue.