Instead, we got two offensive lines imposing themselves to get drives started, but with both passing attacks unable to overcome the environment to turn promising starts into points.
This had to hurt San Diego, who shot themselves in the foot with a number of costly mistakes. On the other hand, for Cleveland this is the continuation of progress that has been evident since Week 1. They play hard, they keep it tight, and on offense they have one of the league’s emerging playmakers.
Let’s take a look at some of the key performances.
San Diego – Three Performances of Note
Rivers Running Dry
I’ve heard various excuses made for Philip Rivers (-2.4) both after this week’s game and earlier in the year. It’s the receivers’ fault. The conditions were tough. His arm isn’t what it used to be. Well his arm seemed fine when he was forcing balls down the field, but his decision making? That was another story. Maybe Rivers thinks he’s still living in his glory days where he could chuck a ball downfield to one of the single covered trio of Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd or Antonio Gates.
Unfortunately those single coverages aren’t presenting themselves, and when they do, well Robert Meachem typified the downgrade with as bad a drop as you’re likely to see with 8:57 to go in the third. Still, don’t scapegoat him. Rivers could have quite easily walked away with two interceptions in the second quarter as he forced balls into double coverage, only Usama Young was unable to make a play. When he wasn’t forcing balls he was under throwing them, and by the end of the day I was left wondering which quarterback out there looked like a rookie.
If you want to show a highlight reel to budding safeties how not to play the game, then show them some of what Bigby did in this one. It started early on a play action Brandon Weeden pass with 5:43 to go in the opening quarter. Jarret Johnson clearly expected help over the top with the rest of the Chargers’ defense in zone, only Bigby decided to keep on driving on the playaction fake that was going nowhere. It turned out to be a lucky escape with a Weeden overthrow, but it was not the end of Bigby’s trouble. No, he would miss four tackles, including one that led to a touchdown from Trent Richardson and another that earned a first down for Ben Watson. A horrible day all round.
Line does its job
Other than Jared Gaither again slowing down late in the game (which is becoming something of a trend), the Chargers’ offensive line can look back at their performance and think they put their team in a position to win. When things went wrong in the running game Gates (-4.1) was usually around, but when things went right Tyronne Green (+3.4) was particularly effective, while Jeromey Clary (+4.0) did a good job keeping Jabaal Sheard in check for most of the game. When you consider that Rivers was pressured on just 22.9% of plays, you’re almost asking what more could they do, short of catching the passes and making something happen. Well, Clary tried even that, though it did result in an 8-yard loss.
Cleveland – Three Performances of Note
That rib injury was supposed to slow down Trent Richardson (+2.2). His running a week earlier look labored and his rookie year was looking like something of a tease. Well, unfortunately for San Diego he looked at his best in Week 8. The numbers don’t really lie here with Richardson who picked up 68 of his 122 yards after contact and forced seven missed tackles as the Chargers struggled to bring him down. It goes without saying but his touchdown run with 4:26 to go in the first was a thing of beauty. Showing some good lateral quickness and just shrugging off Bigby as if he wasn’t there, he coasted into the end zone with ease.
Stack and Shed
Last year, it would be fair to say a player like D’Qwell Jackson (-4.4) was able to play to his strengths. With two big bodies in front of him, he found himself hunting down ball carriers as opposed to getting off blocks. This year? Not so much, and it should come as no surprise that his tackle count is way down.
With two rookies starting in front of him and both keen at times on getting upfield penetration, Jackson found himself regularly having to get off the blocks at the second level, and failed on nearly every occasion. Then on the one occasion he successfully was able to shed Greene, he went on to miss a tackle with 11:20 left in the the fourth quarter.
It’s never been an area of strength for Jackson, but it was alarming how much success the Chargers had in this game.
Near Perfect In Pass Protection
When your quarterback faces pressure on just 26.8% of plays, as Weeden did, you know the offensive line did a good job. When the line itself only gave up one pressure, well, you know they did an excellent job. Indeed only John Greco allowed any pressure (one hit on a pull block) as the Chargers’ impotent pass rush was made to look somewhat less than ordinary, and the likes of Joe Thomas (second perfect game in pass protection of year) excelled. It’s been overlooked, but this is a line that is putting it’s team in position to make plays.
— Passing-downs back Chris Ogbonnaya dropped two of the three balls thrown his way. For San Diego, Ronnie Brown caught seven of eight.
— Philip Rivers connected on only 2 of 10 balls thrown further than 10 yards in the air, though he was the victim of three dropped passes.
— The Chargers batted four balls at the line of scrimmage.
His touchdown run won the game, and his imposing rushing prevented the Browns losing the battle for field position. Kudos to Trent Richardson.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled