Cleveland Browns vs San Diego Chargers: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

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The Cleveland Browns lost what turned out to be a back and forth game this past Sunday against the San Diego Chargers by a score of 30-27. Despite some (including this writer) feeling the Browns would have no chance against San Diego’s high powered offense, they actually hung with the Chargers all afternoon before San Diego’s Josh Lambo hit a game winning field goal in the final seconds of the game.

Despite keeping the game close all day, it wasn’t a flawless performance from the Browns. With that in mind, here is the Good, the Bad and the Ugly from this past Sunday.

The Good

Josh McCown and the Cleveland Browns offense managed to keep pace with what was (and still is) one of the top offenses in football. Cleveland amassed 432 total yards of offense (to San Diego’s 438), and McCown easily played his best game in a Browns uniform (and probably one of the best games in his career), completing 78 percent (32-of-41) of his passes for 356 yards and two touchdowns.

The ground game was able to get going as well, in total rushing for 100 yards on 21 carries (4.7 yards per carry) with Isaiah Crowell leading the way with 12 carries for 63 yards.

The big story on offense, however, had to be Duke Johnson. The rookie running back had a breakout game, catching nine passes (10 targets) for 85 yards and a touchdown to go along with 31 rushing yards on eight carries. Johnson also proved he is more than just a check down option, as he hauled in a 34-yard touchdown pass on a well-thrown ball from McCown.

Duke Johnson hauls in a touchdown in the corner of the endzone.
Duke Johnson hauls in a touchdown in the corner of the end zone.

Sticking with individual performances, Travis Benjamin is starting to show that he might be more than just a big-play threat, hauling in six catches (10 targets) for 79 yards, with a long reception of 18 yards. This is back-to-back weeks with Benjamin receiving 10 targets, as the one time bubble player is making himself a major part of the Browns offense.

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Lastly, the Browns dominated the time of possession battle, holding the ball for 34:19 to the Chargers 25:41. Unfortunately this success did not yield the ideal end result, but it does show that the offense is able to sustain drives and eat some clock.

The Bad

Once again the Browns pass rush failed to make a significant impact, only notching two sacks and (according to Pro Football Focus) nine additional pressures on Philip Rivers. This is troubling for multiple reasons.

First off, the Chargers offensive line was one of the worst in the league coming into play, allowing eight sacks (tied for 2nd most) and 46 total pressures (tied for third most) in Weeks 1-3. The Chargers offensive line was also injury riddled, missing their entire left side and center. Despite all of this, Rivers was only under pressure on 10 of his 40 drop backs, one of the lowest percentages in the league.

The Browns defense allowed far too many big plays of 20-plus yards on Sunday. While the rush defense overall was better, at least statistically, Melvin Gordon had a long carry of 23 yards while Malcom Floyd, Keenan Allen, Danny Woodhead and Dontrelle Inman all had long receptions of 20, 31, 61 and 68 yards respectively. Woodhead also had a 19 yard carry.

While the run defense didn’t allow Gordon (aside from the one 23-yard gain) to really hurt them (12 carries for 38 yards) and the Chargers rushing attached failed to amass 100 yards, Cleveland still allowed 4.3 yards per carry, as they surrendered 91 rushing yards on 21 attempts. This is better than the past three weeks, but still not good enough to be considered a top defense.

The Browns offense played well, but they’re also partly to blame for this loss. While 6 of their 11 offensive drives resulted in a score, four of those six were field goals. Of those four field goals, three of them came inside San Diego’s 20-yard line, meaning the Browns offense had a good opportunity to score a touchdown. It’s good that the Browns were able to score on over 50 percent of their drives, but they need to do a better job of turning field goals into touchdowns in the red zone.

The Ugly

While the Browns defense did force five punts, they also failed to come up big when the game mattered most.

In the closing minutes of the 4th quarter, McCown and the Browns offense orchestrated a 5:17, 10- play, 67-yard touchdown drive, and converted on a two point attempt that ended up tying the game. That meant the Chargers had exactly 2:09 left to drive downfield and win the game.

What resulted was a disaster for the Browns, as the Chargers only saw one third down on what would end up being their game winning drive, and that third down came when they were already in field goal range and were running out the clock.

As mentioned above, the Browns dominated time of possession all afternoon, so it’s not as if the defense was gassed. Cleveland allowed plays of 5, 17, 8 and 19 yards to San Diego (who started the drive on the 27 yard line thanks to a 30 yard kick return by Brandon Oliver) to start their final drive, which allowed them into field goal range.

All of this comes after the Browns defense allowed a 5-play, 74-yard touchdown drive on San Diego’s previous drive. In total, the Browns defense allowed the Chargers 131 yards on 13 plays over their last two offensive drives in the final 10 minutes of the game (elapsed time of possession for the Chargers on both drives amounted to 4:40).

Given that the Chargers only held the ball for 25:41 all afternoon, that means the Browns defense was only on the field for just over 21 minutes up until this point, and BOTH TIMES they were asked to take the field came on the heels of a 5-plus minute scoring drive by the Browns offense. Being well rested (as has been the excuse in previous games/years) is not an excuse this time. This was a defensive failure by what was supposed to be an elite unit.

The Browns didn’t do themselves any favors in terms of penalties either, getting flagged 12 times for 91 yards.

The most talked about penalty of the afternoon is surely Tramon Williams jumping offsides in the final seconds of the 4th quarter on what ended up being a missed field goal by Lambo. This resulted in a 5-yard penalty (making it 4th and 2 on the Browns 16-yard line) with Lambo punching in a game winning 34-yard field goal as time expired. Williams was clearly offsides, and that resulted in the gut wrenching penalty, but his presence in the backfield due to him being offsides likely contributed to Lambo missing the kick. It’s unfortunate that the Browns defense even allowed themselves to be put into that situation.

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Dave is a long-time Cleveland sports fan who prides himself on bringing statistical analysis into his sports conversations. Co-host of the C-Town & Down Show on No Static Radio, he is well-versed in bringing sports conversations to his fans and audience via multiple platforms.

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