It wasn’t pretty. The elements played a huge role. There’s more than enough things to key in on that need significant work. But, here we are, for the second time in three weeks talking about a Cleveland Browns win. The Browns leaned heavily on Trent Richardson for 24 carries, and he rewarded them 122 yards and the game’s only touchdown. The defense stepped out and used the elements to their advantage, making plays when they absolutely had to late. The Browns improved to 2-6 and came away victorious by a 7-6 margin.
One week removed from being pulled from a loss against the Colts after just eight timid carries, it was Trent Richardson who shouldered the load on a blustery afternoon that can normally characterize at least two Sundays every season at Cleveland Browns Stadium. It was AFC North football to the core, grinding out yardage on the ground with the offensive linemen opening up holes. No run was more telling of that than Richardson’s 26-yard stroll into the end zone. As Richardson bounced off tackle, “fullback” Alex Smith sealed the edge as a handful of Chargers chased Trent down the line in a lost cause. Trent hit the second level after two jukes to make two more Chargers miss with a bear hug from his guards, Jon Greco and Shawn Lauvao, who, realizing that it was their own running back they were engaged with, gave him a gentle nudge and sent him on his way into the end zone. As Andrew said on Twitter, it’s the kind of touchdown the Browns are apt to surrender rather than score themselves. All of this was done against the 2nd ranked Chargers run defense that understood the challenging passing conditions for Brandon Weeden. Credit the offensive line and tight ends Smith and Ben Watson, who were pressed into service blocking in the backfield with the deactivation of fullback Owen Marecic. I noticed multiple plays where Greco and Lauvao helped open up holes for Richardson to run.
Speaking of those quarterback struggles, it was a combination of overthrowing the receivers and the receivers flatout dropping catchable balls. For Weeden, it was a slightly overthrown ball to Ben Watson in the first quarter that could’ve been a touchdown, a pass that could have (not necessarily should have) been caught by Josh Gordon in the end zone, and drops by Greg Little, Chris Ogbonnaya, and Josh Cooper that stalled drives and forced punts. For Rivers, the most frustrating play of the game for Chargers fans was undoubtedly the sure-fire touchdown that receiver Robert Meachem dropped as he zoomed past T.J. Ward and Usama Young in the third quarter. It was an infuriating game for the franchise quarterback Rivers, who had several outbursts like a toddler whose favorite toy was taken away by a parent.
When you look at Weeden’s numbers, they’re nothing too impressive. But, in between the figures, there was some success in rolling out to the right and finding his receivers on crossing patterns to both Little and Gordon for first downs. The rookie QB was 11-for-27 for 129 yards, but he avoided turning over the ball for the second straight week and has just six turnovers in the last seven games.
After plenty of frustrating games watching the defense get gashed for big plays and multiple scores, it was a relief to see the Browns defense hold San Diego to just two Nick Novak field goals. The defensive effort was outstanding, particular from the safety position as T.J. Ward and Usama Young both stood out. Ward was key in holding Chargers running back Ryan Matthews to under 100 yards (24 carries for 95 yards with a long of 11) and had a blitz late to force Rivers to get rid of the ball preventing a first down completion. Meanwhile, Young nearly had two interceptions as he broke up one deep pass where he came over with Haden giving the receiver a bit of a cushion. On another, Young and Ward were nearly able to bring in another pick. D’Qwell Jackson had 14 tackles of his own as he seemed to never be too far from the play. James-Michael Johnson, officially a permanent starter with Scott Fujita on the IR, had a big day as well, headlined by a strip of Matthews that was recovered by defensive tackle Billy Winn.
There’s certainly plenty of areas that need work. The Browns prevent-ish defense at the end of both halves was atrocious. It led to three points at the end of the first and nearly resulted in three more that would’ve won the game. Ronnie Brown broke free on multiple occasions and was unaccounted for by the Cleveland defense, catching 7 passes for 85 yards, including two huge ones to extend the series on San Diego’s final drive. There was Josh Cribbs and his fear of picking the ball up, pinning the Browns deep in their own territory twice. There was Montario Hardesty’s fumble, quickly recovered by Montario himself, which nearly ruined things. Reggie Hodges was pretty terrible punting the ball for most of the day. All of that didn’t matter, however, when Buster Skrine deflected Rivers’s last pass and Sheldon Brown tackled Malcolm Floyd to the ground.
I’ll leave you with this. How nice is it to walk into work on Monday morning and talk about a Browns win? Not a meaningless, end of the season, draft-order ruining win at the end of the season against scrubs. Instead, it’s a mid-season win against a team that’s made the playoffs recently. One that has a franchise quarterback and a tough run defense. It’s the second time in three weeks. While hard to quantify, I just don’t feel this is business as usual. The Browns won’t make the playoffs. They may not do much more than double their win total right now. But, how good does it feel when someone asks you about how the Browns are doing to say “We’re building. We’re getting there.” and actually believe it?