Week 8 Reflections: Chargers at Browns - Ground and pound

Jason Miller

Amid the miserable, cold and wet conditions in Cleveland on Sunday, the Browns established the ground game and pounded it away with Trent Richardson, narrowly escaping with the win at home against the San Diego Chargers, 7-6.

The offense

  • Weather conditions - There is no doubt that the weather conditions had an impact on the offense in this game. Pat Shurmur has shown a tendency to heavily favor the passing game. It was smart for the Browns not to attempt that this time around. They stuck with the ground game and it came through for them with flying colors.
  • Trent Richardson - Understanding the weather conditions, this is exactly the sort of game that the Browns need Richardson for. Despite a lingering and at times even debilitating rib cartilage injury, he bounced back in a big way. Averaging 5.1 yards per carry is great any week, but dropping 122 yards and a touchdown on one of the best rushing defenses in the league is fantastic. Even during this fine outing, there were still occasional grumblings regarding the "dancing" in the backfield before hitting the hole, from myself included. You have to take the bad with the good, and this week the good far outweighed the bad. These moves are part of the player Richardson is. They probably have a lot to do with why he's often so hard for the first guy to bring down. I do expect him to improve on the hesitation, as with any young, talented rookie.
  • O-line - The Browns' offensive line continues to surprise. The pass protection wasn't great according to the box score, but the run blocking appeared to be light years ahead in a game where they needed to be. Mitchell Schwartz has been really impressive as of late. Cleveland may have found their right tackle.
  • Brandon Weeden - The quarterback rating is what it is, but Weeden didn't have a terrible day on Sunday. He did enough to win, which should be all that you ask of your quarterback. I hate to keep bringing up the weather conditions, but when they play a significant role in a particular area of the game, it's worth acknowledging. Weeden protected the football and passed for seven first downs in the slop. It wasn't great, but it was enough.
  • Josh Gordon - Gordon is again leading the team in passing. He didn't keep his touchdown streak alive, but that shouldn't be all that surprising. In a game that didn't have a ton of completions for the Browns, one of Gordon's three went for 26 yards on a first-and-20, a play that put the team in field goal-range if not for a sack on the following third down.
  • Greg Little - Little still has issues dropping passes. He wasn't the only one in this game, on either team for that matter. However, he's made it a trend over the course of a season and a half. Some receivers never get over this issue. Little might be one of them. Here's to hoping that's not the case and he was merely another casualty of the rain.
  • Josh Cooper's drop - This is something you really don't want to see from a WR that was just starting to develop a rapport with his quarterback after coming off the practice squad, especially when it's the Browns and we need that kind of receiver. It was still his only target of the game in the 14 snaps he saw. Did I mention it was raining during the game?

The defense

  • Rain, you say? - If we're going to acknowledge the impact the weather conditions had on the Browns' offense, we have to do the same thing for the defense. It helped. The Cleveland defense still had a phenomenal day. Holding the opposing team to six points is great regardless. One of the defining moments from the game came on the opening drive when the Chargers elected to go for it on fourth-and-one from Cleveland's 40-yard line. The Browns stuffed Jackie Battle for no gain and forced a turnover on downs. Then at the end of the game, with the lead on the line, they did it again by forcing four straight incompletions by Philip Rivers, effectively sealing the victory.
  • D'Qwell Jackson - Jackson isn't on the all-world campaign we saw in the first two games, but he's remained steady. Racking up 14 tackles is hardly shabby. Topping it off with the huge impact plays we saw him make early in the season would be that much better.
  • James-Michael Johnson - This rookie fourth-round pick looked fantastic in his first significant playing time. He recorded 10 total tackles and forced Ryan Matthews to cough the ball up, which was recovered by fellow rookie Billy Winn.
  • Joe Haden - Not hearing Haden's name throughout the game is a good thing. It seemed as if the Chargers were afraid to target him. I don't blame them, if that was indeed the case.
  • Usama Young - Young made some solid plays in pass defense, although he dropped at least one would be interceptions. He didn't look like a liability out there.

The special teams

  • Reggie Hodges - Of Hodges' nine punts, only three of them made it within the 20-yard line. This is something that's frustrating to watch, but I don't think it's game-breaking. He could benefit from an improvement in the coverage as well.
  • Josh Cribbs avoiding the ball - It's not like Cribbs to pass up on opportunities to return the football. He might have been considering the conditions, not wanting to make the same mistake Chargers' safety and returner Eric Weddle did. Luckily for the Chargers, Weddle got it back.
  • Holding - The penalties on the return team are becoming insufferable. Having a returner like Cribbs, when he's actually returning the ball, nullified by needless penalties is inexcusable and costly. I would love to see these special teams issues addressed and actually have the Browns start with solid field position.

Overall

Win is a win is a win. Have you heard this enough yet? It wasn't pretty, but it didn't need to be. The offense wasn't setting the world on fire in an outing that included nine straight punts. But, if you're going to hammer the offense for that, you have to credit the defense for creating a similar situation on the other side of the ball. The bottom line: The Browns won the kind of cold, wet, ugly mess that we've seen them lose so many times before.

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