Browns 7, Chargers 6
Strategy: The Cleveland Browns haven't significantly altered their philosophies since they traveled to M&T Bank Stadium in Week 4, but they are executing much more efficiently. On offense, they want to pound the ball with rookie running back Trent Richardson and attack defenses with quick throws, screen passes and deeper throws off play action. Defensively, they usually rushed four or five defenders on Sunday and mixed up their coverages behind their 4-3 front.
Personnel: The Browns continue to rely on rookies, from Richardson and starting quarterback Brandon Weeden to a pair of defensive tackles, John Hughes and Billy Winn, who played well Sunday with Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor sidelined due to injuries. Another rookie, Josh Gordon, didn't score against the Chargers, but he has emerged with four touchdown grabs in four games since the Ravens last played the Browns. The Browns kept three tight ends involved, including Alex Smith, who replaced Owen Marecic as the team's fullback in Sunday's victory.
What went right: The Browns stopped the Chargers on fourth and 1 then scored a touchdown on their first drive of the game. They ran the ball well in the first half, picking up 95 rushing yards, including 26 on Richardson's touchdown run in which the rookie made three defenders, including Jarret Johnson, whiff on tackles in the box. Weeden completed just 11 of his 27 passes on this soggy Sunday, but he appears to be much more poised since I last watched him. The Browns flustered Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who also struggled to complete passes in the rain, and bottled up San Diego's running backs, holding the team to just 3.4 yards per carry.
What went wrong: After scoring on their first drive, they didn't score a single point the rest of the game, and the offense's inability to move the ball in the third quarter opened the door for the Chargers to take the lead, though they were never able to do so. With 134 total yards, Richardson accounted for more than half of their offense. The defense allowed running backs Ronnie Brown and Ryan Mathews to catch nine passes for 94 yards and they sacked Rivers just once.
Turning point: With the Browns leading, 7-3, in the third quarter, they sent six defenders after Rivers, but none was able to hit home. He heaved a pass slightly behind speedy wide receiver Robert Meachem, who had split the pair of Browns safeties deep, but Meachem tried to run with the ball before actually securing it, and a potential 51-yard touchdown was squandered. If the Chargers had scored seven points there, the outcome likely would have been different.
X-factor: Cornerback Joe Haden missed the Week 4 game between the Ravens and the Browns because he was suspended for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. But the defense has performed much better since he returned, allowing 47 points as the Browns have gone 2-1. Haden has quietly become of the NFL's best cornerbacks, but his play has gone unnoticed because the Browns are, well, the Browns. Ravens wide receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin will have their hands full trying to elude Haden this weekend.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun