Game #8 Review – Chargers @ Browns
A win is a win, no matter if the final score is 52-51 or 7-6. The Browns were able to eke out a victory on Sunday after a hard-fought game. It was definitely a team-win; as all units were relatively productive against the Chargers. While it may not have been pretty at times, the Browns were able to up their record to 2-6 amidst heavy winds and rain in Cleveland Browns Stadium. I loved the teams’ response to Pat Shurmur’s speech following the game. The coach was about to give the team off Monday, but the players spoke up and stated they wanted to come in and work instead.
Offense: I thought Brandon Weeden played pretty good, considering the circumstances. He only had 129 through the air, but once again his receivers could have added to that total (dropping a few catchable passes in bad weather). Two things that the signal caller was guilty of (which frustrated the fans), was overthrowing wide-open targets and getting his passes tipped. The former was painful, as many felt Weeden had corrected his mistakes (of missing targets) from the beginning of the year. Hopefully, this was an anomaly and will not occur the rest of the season. The defensive linemen of the Chargers were able to swat the football at the line of scrimmage, almost intercepting a few. This was concerning, as the Browns quarterback and linemen had worked hard to avoid these. Weeden did take two sacks, which hurt the team, but also avoided a couple as well. Several of his better decisions occurred when he threw the football away, as opposed to trying to force something that simply was not there.
This was the type of performance Browns’ fans were hoping to see out of Trent Richardson – twenty-four carries for 122 yards. The running back carried the load on Sunday, and more importantly, had the lone touchdown of the game. The Chargers had not allowed a 100-yard rusher in their last eleven games – this streak ended at Cleveland Browns Stadium. I hope this gets the attention of Pat Shurmur that the team should employ the running game more in future contests. With the hard rain coming down, I anticipated a poor snap or a fumble happening during a rushing play – neither of which occurred for the Browns. One turnover for the team, and it might have cost the franchise a victory. Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya contributed very little (seven yards on four carries), but Richardson was the story of the game.
I was not expecting the wide receivers to put up big numbers in the pouring rain and heavy wind. Josh Gordon led the unit, with three receptions for forty-six yards. He was unable to catch a difficult pass in the end zone, but he continued to get open and made plays when opportunities arose. After dropping a huge pass on third down, Greg Little had a pair of second half catches and a nice block on a running play – not a great game, but the young veteran continues to be involved in the offense. Unfortunately, a pair of rookies took a step back this week. Travis Benjamin did not have a reception and fumbled an end-around toss from Josh Cribbs. Also, Josh Cooper dropped the only pass thrown his way – ending a promising fourth-quarter drive. I look forward for both to bounce back next week; the offense will need all their weapons for the important matchup with the Ravens. Tight ends Jordan Cameron and Ben Watson each came up with a big catch; they did not have gaudy stats but they helped move the chains on a day where that was difficult.
The offensive line continued to show that they can pave the way for the Browns’ running attack. It was great to see the unit open up holes; Shaun Lauvao even helped push Richardson toward the end zone. I have confidence that this can happen regularly this year – if they can run on the second-ranked run defense they should be able to do the same against other teams in the league. The Chargers threw multiple blitzes on passing plays, but fortunately the line was able to protect Weeden (for the most part). I cannot remember when one lineman was clearly beat by a defender on a play – the only time the opponent was able to make it difficult for the offense was when multiple players occupied the same gap. The group for the Browns continues to get better, and I want to see this trend continue next Sunday before the team hits their bye week.
Defense: The Browns defense played a tremendous game – the unit faced a very good offense in the Chargers and prevented them from scoring a touchdown. They held Ryan Mathews under 100 yards, a feat I was not anticipating (especially with Athyba Rubin being inactive for the contest). Several players stepped up and made big plays for the Browns; one of those was rookie Billy Winn. The sixth-round draft selection played very well; recovering a fumble and sacking Philip Rivers. Juqua Parker (who has been rather quiet as of late) kept pressure on the opponent and made some nice stops on third downs. John Hughes had four tackles – leading the way for the defensive line. Assuming Rubin and Phil Taylor get healthy and can play next week, the group has an opportunity to make it difficult for the opposition to try to gain yards on the ground.
The three leading tacklers for the team were linebackers – D’Qwell Jackson had fourteen, James Michael-Johnson tallied ten, while Kaluka Maiava came away with nine. The collection did not have really any impactful plays (i.e. sacks or multiple tackles for losses) but they prevented long rushes, which was extremely important. Another great thing that the group accomplished was the limiting of tight end Antonio Gates. The veteran has had big games against the Browns in the past, but only had two catches for fourteen yards on Sunday. Ronnie Brown led the Chargers in receiving with seven catches for eighty-five yards; the linebacker corps clearly had their issues with the veteran running back. This appeared to be the only weakness for the group on Sunday – hopefully they do not allow Ray Rice to do the same next week.
I thought T.J. Ward played his best game of the year against the Chargers – his stop on an early, crucial 4th down and one halted the momentum of the Chargers. The University of Oregon alum was in on several passing plays and put a solid hit on Rivers. Joe Haden and Usama Young both played pretty well in coverage; every time the opponent threw deep, the duo was around the football and prevented receivers from making plays. Haden also came away with eight tackles, the last line of defense helped limit Mathews and other rushers from breaking a long run. Buster Skrine had a decent game – coming away with four tackles. His deflection on fourth down sealed the game for the Browns, and plays like that will help him continue to see a fair amount of playing time.
Special Teams: The kicking game was a non-factor for the Browns; it would have been adventurous to see Phil Dawson try a kick in the weather though. Alas, a touchdown was enough to win the game for the team. Reggie Hodges had another tough outing but was able to pin the Chargers down nside the five-yard line once. Josh Cribbs had a few moderate returns, nothing exceptional – but he avoided a costly mistake. The Browns almost caught a huge break when Eric Weddle bobbled a punt late in the game. However, he was able to recover it and gave his offense a chance to score.
Coaching: The play calling was definitely more balanced that in previous weeks – most likely dictated by the weather. It will be interesting to see if Shurmur gives Richardson the football a fair amount going forward. Defensively, I thought there were several aggressive plays called for the secondary. Dick Jauron figured pressure would cause Philip Rivers to not play as well as he could, and that appeared to be the case.