The San Diego Chargers are 3-3, but it sure doesn’t feel that way after a historic collapse in Week 6 to the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football and the subsequent Stickum-laced towel controversy. In Week 8 the Chargers travel to Cleveland to face a Browns team that has been the cure to the ills of many struggling franchises for the better part of a decade.
The Browns are 1-6 and the Chargers should theoretically win with ease, but it’s never that simple. Games must be played on a football field to determine the victor, and the Browns are a young, dangerous team that can’t be taken lightly.
The Chargers haven’t been able to stop the pass consistently which is the result of a lackluster pass rush and poor coverage. After a horrible start to the year, rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden is coming on strong and has averaged 278 yards per game over the past six games. Statistically the Chargers are the worst pass defense Weeden has faced this season.
Of course, the Browns are 1-6 for a reason. Cleveland’s pass defense is just as bad as the Chargers. The Browns’ run defense has allowed 4.5 yards per carry and eight plays of 20 yards or more. The Browns are also struggling to run the ball despite selecting Trent Richardson in the first round of the NFL draft in April.
Should the Chargers be more conservative in the passing game?
Roll with Rivers
There’s been talk that the Chargers might take fewer risks because Philip Rivers has thrown too many interceptions. How drastically Norv Turner would change his offense is unknown, but he usually loves throwing deep.
According to ProFootballFocus, Rivers has thrown more interceptions on passes 20 yards or more down the field than any quarterback in the league, but he’s still one of the most accurate deep passers. It might be in the best interest of Turner and Rivers to keep taking deep shots.
The Baltimore Ravens burned the Browns deep repeatedly and Joe Flacco put up 356 yards passing, making the Browns the perfect team to try to exploit with the deep pass. One example was a deep fade to Torrey Smith down the right sideline between two defenders.
The Browns used a Cover 2 defense with both safeties covering half of the deep zone. Smith ran a fade toward the sideline which forced the safety to cover the maximum amount of real estate.
Once the cornerback passed Smith off to the safety, all Smith had to do was make the catch and get his feet inbounds. The deep safety never had a chance to come all the way over from his position to make a play.
Smith made the catch and got his feet in bounds to give the Ravens one of three big plays on that drive alone for the Ravens. The Chargers should be able to execute a similar play using Malcom Floyd or Robert Meachem, with the added threat of a tight end keeping the safeties from leaking toward the outside.
If the safeties do leak too much to the outside, the Chargers already have a play in the playbook to make the opposing defense pay. Floyd lined up in the slot left against the Broncos and his route is demonstrated by the blue line. The two safeties are both playing deep and wide leaving a big hole in the center of the field.
Floyd does a great job getting a release at the line of scrimmage to get around the cornerback. It was such a good release that the cornerback was almost powerless to do anything except turn and run.
Rivers slides to his left away from the pressure and delivers a perfect pass to Floyd behind the cornerback and between the two safeties. If the Chargers continue to take deep shots, they will be successful against this Cleveland secondary.
Turn to Ryan Mathews
The Browns are one of the worst run defenses in the league, and the Chargers might decide that being more conservative means more carries for Ryan Mathews. If Ahmad Bradshaw can go over 200 yards rushing against this defense, then Mathews can also have a big day.
Cleveland’s defensive line doesn’t do a good job defending the run because they fail to set the edge consistently. The result has been a lot of big plays to the outside.
The Giants are able to block a defensive end with a tight end, which frees up the left tackle to block a linebacker and the center to get out in front as a lead blocker.
The center was without a defender to engage so he moved laterally to help the fullback lead block on the outside. It was a heads-up play by the veteran David Baas because his block ultimately springs Bradshaw for 15 extra yards at the end of the play.
The fullback takes out the first linebacker through the hole which enables Bradshaw to get to the sideline.
Bass gets one last block on the safety which turns a good gain into a great gain. Keep in mind the running back was the aging Bradshaw. The Chargers should lean heavily on Mathews and try to get him into space with as many blockers as possible. Mathews is a lot more dynamic than Bradshaw, and he could have a huge day.
Stop Josh Gordon
The Browns don’t have a lot of high-end options in the passing game, but Josh Gordon is starting to develop a rapport with Weeden. Gordon has 19 receptions for 240 yards and four touchdowns over the last three games. If there’s a player that can really hurt the Chargers’ pass defense, it’s Gordon.
Gordon is predominately a deep threat, and the Browns like to have him test the safeties. On this play, Gordon ran a slant route between the two safeties just to see how they would respond.
One safety was playing close to the line of scrimmage and was cheating toward one side which made it impossible for him to recover. Gordon’s speed makes any misstep by the safeties a fatal error, and Weeden only had to hit him in stride for this play to turn into a 71-yard touchdown.
This isn’t the only play in which Gordon challenges the defensive secondary. If the Chargers can keep Gordon out of the end zone, there is a very good chance the defense will be able to slow down Weeden and the Browns’ passing attack.
The pressure will be on Atari Bigby and Eric Weddle to play a smart football game, and don’t be surprised if the Chargers try to keep two safeties deep. The game could hinge on Richardson’s effectiveness. If the Chargers have to bring a safety into the box, that could give the Browns a chance to hit on a deep pass.