By Dave Thomas
If you were a football team in need of a win and you saw Cleveland coming up on the schedule, chances are you would be feeling pretty good about your chances.
After dropping a 7-6 decision Sunday afternoon in wet and dreary Cleveland, the San Diego Chargers were probably about as happy as the weather around them. The loss not only dropped the Chargers to 3-4 on the season, but ran their losing streak to three games.
On a day when running the ball was going to be key given the conditions, Cleveland’s Trent Richardson had a productive day with the pigskin. The Alabama rookie rushed for 122 yards on 24 carries, scoring the game’s lone touchdown. While San Diego’s defense kept the Browns (2-6) out of the end zone all but one time, it was one time too many.
Meantime, San Diego’s offense looked worse than the chances of Hurricane Sandy not having a major impact on the East Coast to start the work week. Whether it was dropped passes, QB Philip Rivers (18-of-34, 154 yards) not getting the passes where they needed to go, or a running game that was spotty at best, the Bolts could not sustain solid drives for much of the day.
Perhaps a showing only as bad or equal to the 27-3 loss to Atlanta last month, the Chargers were lackluster to say the least on the offensive side of the ball. While Ryan Mathews did grind out 95 yards on the ground, he again coughed up a fumble. Although the Bolts went right back to him with the ball, there is still an uneasiness when Mathews touches the ball time in and time out. Why was Ronnie Brown (4 carries, 17 yards on Sunday) brought in here if he’s going to get little to no work running the ball? Number three all-time on the Dolphins rushing yardage list, Brown has basically been absent from San Diego’s ground attack this year. It was also a tad surprising that Jackie Battle (3 carries, 6 yards) did not get more touches on Sunday.
Overall, the offensive line gave Rivers some time to throw, but they did not get off their blocks enough to establish a dominating running game. Wide receiver Robert Meachem’s drop in the third quarter on what looked like a given TD pass around Cleveland’s 25 proved the biggest gaffe of the day. No doubt many Chargers fans were wishing number 83 (Vincent Jackson) was still plying his trade in San Diego and not Tampa Bay. Grade: C-
One can’t get a much better performance from its defensive unit and still come up short. Linebacker Donald Butler led the Bolts with 11 overall tackles, while Atari Bigby and Eric Weddle were in on nine and six, respectively. Cleveland QB Brandon Weeden did not light up the stats sheet, going 11-of-27 for 129 yards. Meantime, the Browns as a team managed a total of 250 yards offense on the day. Much like missed opportunities on offense, the ‘D’ also had some, most notably Bigby missing an interception in the red zone that could have given the Chargers a TD and the lead in the second half. Grade: B+
On a day when field position was everything given the weather, San Diego got a pair of field goals (43, 31 yards) from Nick Novak, who has taken over permanently for Nate Kaeding. Also, punter Mike Scifres pinned the Browns inside their own 20 on three occasions. Kick/punt returner Richard Goodman went down to an injury in the first quarter, meaning Chris Carr and Eric Weddle would return kicks/punts the remainder of the day. One can only imagine that Chargers fans held their collective breath each time their top secondary player (Weddle) would go back to receive a punt. Grade: B-
While the season is by no means lost, the time to rally the troops has definitely come. Unless Norv Turner and Co. get this thing figured out in a hurry, Turner, general manager AJ Smith, and a number of players may want to begin polishing up their resumes.
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Dave Thomas is a freelance writer covering all things Chargers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.