Cleveland Browns fans thought they had a legitimate team that was capable of stringing together a few wins going into Week 6 of the NFL season. The team and fans were riding high after the Browns pulled off their best win in the last decade against the Baltimore Ravens, but no one expected what came next. The Cleveland Browns took on the Los Angeles Chargers at First Energy Stadium in what most football fans believed could bring the Browns their first back-to-back wins in years. Instead, the Browns came out flat and got completely manhandled by the Chargers. The offense couldn’t put together a drive (because the receivers seemed to be playing with butter for hands), and the great Browns defense of the beginning of the season looked completely unrecognizable. What happened to the Browns defense you may ask? They couldn’t stop the Chargers’ run game.
If your defense can’t stop the other team from running the ball, then there’s no way you can expect to win in today’s NFL. The era the league is currently in is one where teams must have a strong passing game to win games. Developing a strong run game, though, takes pressure off your quarterback because your offense becomes less predictable. The Chargers used the run game to their advantage on Sunday and completely ate up the Browns’ defense with 246 yards on the ground. Melvin Gordon, the Chargers’ star running back, ran for 132 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 7.3 yards per carry. That’s almost a first down every time Gordon touched the ball! Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the slaughter as Auston Ekeler ran for 60 yards on seven carries and wide receiver Keenan Allen ran for 41 yards on four carries. It’s impossible to win in the NFL if your defense is giving up so many yards on the ground.
A major flaw in the Browns run defense on Sunday was that they couldn’t stop any run plays to the outside zone of the field. This includes pitches, stretches and the fly sweep. The reason why the Browns couldn’t stop these runs to the outside is that the linebackers would get caught flat-footed off the snap and by the time they found the ball it was too late. You can see in the video above that on the fly sweep plays Myles Garrett goes untouched into the backfield. This is a design by the offense to trick Garrett into thinking he has a free shot at the running back while instead, the receiver is already past him with the ball. You can see the linebackers are caught overplaying the middle of the field when the ball is snapped and by the time they find Keenan Allen with the ball they’re already behind the play. From there on out most of the defense is behind the play while the Chargers tight end and center are down the field blocking for Allen. There is no excuse for this play to work twice in one game. When Allen is set in motion the linebackers must be communicating to the defensive line to prepare them. There must not have been any communication on the play because if there was Garrett wouldn’t have come off the edge so hard and the linebackers would have stayed home to find the ball.
I know the run defense will be a point of emphasis for Gregg Williams during practice this week because it doesn’t take a genius to see that the Browns got killed on the ground this week. The Browns have a lot of injuries at the linebacker position, but these guys need to have the next man up mentality. They need to have guys willing to stand up to the challenge and become leaders on the field with so many question marks at linebacker. This week of practice should give them enough time to work out the kinks and get ready for next week against the Buccaneers. Tampa’s run game hasn’t looked as stellar as the Chargers’, so I think this will give the defense the opportunity to learn and gain some confidence going forward this season.