CLEVELAND,OH - Oct. 7, 2001, was the last time the Cleveland Browns beat the San Diego Chargers in a series that has been dominated by the bolts.
What happens this week when the boys from the west coast come to town is anybody's guess. The Chargers have beaten the Browns in good weather and bad. Remember LaDanian Tomlinson running through the snow back in Dec. of 2004?
This season for the Browns has been a variety of injuries and missed opportunities. What do you chalk that up to? Youth? Bad Luck?
The players feel this team has been a play away in each of the last three games. You can take it back to the 3rd and 1 play against the New York Giants that resulted in an interception. Last week, it was the fourth and one in a tough loss to the Colts.
With youth, comes growing pains. The Browns are one of the youngest teams in the NFL and are reminded each and every week. Last week, rookie Josh Gordon dropped a go ahead touchdown pass from Brandon Weeden, the rookie quarterback was asked about the near misses that have occurred this year.
"It's a good sign for a young team like us, It means we are in ballgames and we are not getting blown out. we are not a gimme. No team has come in here and thought we are going to lay down," said Weeden.
So, how do the Browns get over this hump? "I don't know how you fix it except make the play," explained Weeden.
Enter the San Diego Chargers who have also struggled to make the big play. Phillip Rivers can air it out with the best of the quarterbacks in the NFL, but the bolts have struggled offensively as well. San Diego comes into this game with a record of (3-3) ranked 25th in total yards (330.2) just two spots ahead of the Browns (324.0). The Chargers actually are just 19th in passing offense (229.0), while the Browns and Weeden are 16th (244.0).
The Chargers do boast one of the leagues elite tight ends in Kent State grad Antonio Gates. Browns Coordinator Dick Jauron had this to say about the former all pro who has battled thru injuries the last several years.
"He knows how to get open. Obviously, they have a relationship, the quarterback (Phillip Rivers) and he have a relationship. They have played together a long time. They are very difficult to stop, very difficult. He's a very smart receiver, knows how to release, knows how to set you up in his routes. It's just a tough assignment for every team including us as you go up against him."
T.J. Ward says he has a wide receivers mentality built into a tight ends body, he is big and fast and cause alot of problems if you don't always keep an eye on him.
Gates has 19 catches for 224 yards and two scores, but Malcom Floyd is the deep threat, a ball that Phillip Rivers has perfected over his career. Floyd has 25 catches for 418 yards and a touchdown, averaging 16.7 yards per catch. The Browns secondary will be on high alert.
Injuries continue to be the key for the Browns. Trent Richardson did practice this week, but was limited after lasting just eight carries for eight yards last week. It will be hard to expect him not to play if he is anywhere near healthy enough to go.
Brandon Weeden will have a healthy core of receivers to throw to this week, maybe the healthiest he has had all year. Weeden has been getting great protection out of his offensive line over the past four games, going down just three times. Weeden has averaged 244 yards a game and with more weapons and more time to find them, it could mean trouble for the Chargers secondary.
Greg Little see his quarterback getting better, every week. "I just think Brandon is becoming more comfortable with the progression itself and I think more comfortable with the play. Him seeing it over and over and over in real live action is helping him kind of get through the first two reads because he know it's not there judging from the defensive look and then getting to the third read and letting the guy run with it."
The key guy, has been rookie Josh Gordon who leads NFL rookie receivers in touchdowns (4) and receiving yards with 333. Pat Shurmur has been impressed with his development so far. "I think he's shown me that he's got a chance to be a pretty darn good player. Now, how far he goes with that we'll see, but I'm seeing steady improvement.
On defense, the Browns will have to deal with not only Rivers and his receivers, but versatile running back Ryan Mathews who averages 4.5 yards a run and has been a weapon out of the backfield for Rivers in the early downs.
The Browns can't afford to leave it all on the field Sunday and walk away with another loss.