To hear the Chargers talk about it this week, you’d think they were preparing for a field full of Jim Browns come Sunday instead of one filled with this season’s Cleveland Browns.
“They’re a very talented team,” Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “When you watch tape, you watch a number of explosive plays that they have, some of the athletes that they have. It’s made an impression on us. …They’re very talented. You see some where they’re talented and young and you see them getting better each and every week.”
But all that improvement, all that talent, all that explosion? It’s resulted in zero wins. The Chargers’ coaches know it. Their players know it. The league knows it.
But, Bradley and those inside the locker room insist the Chargers are facing a talented team Sunday at StubHub Center in Carson.
“They’re a team where we know where the record is at but we look at it differently,” Bradley said. “We see a talented team that’s just trying to figure it out, to get consecutive plays, consecutive drives in a row right. That can happen. We just have to make sure it doesn’t happen this week.”
To make sure the Browns don’t get their first win of the season against the Chargers — something that happened a season ago for their only victory — the team will have to focus on what the Browns do well and prepare to stop it.
For all of their flaws, the Browns are only slightly below average running the ball, and above-average using read-option plays to rush.
The plays generally fall under this umbrella concept — the player taking the snap is just as dangerous running the football as the player he could hand it to.
According to ESPN statistics, the Browns have gained 260 yards on read-option plays, accounting for nearly 25% of their rushing yards. Only two teams, the Carolina Panthers and the Tennessee Titans, have been more productive with the tactic.
“Playing 11-on-11 is always a challenge when you have to account for the quarterback. So we have to play very disciplined on defense,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “It’s been a lot of work this week — a lot of meeting time, a lot of walk-throughs and a lot of live reps in practice just on the zone read and wildcat plays on offense.”
Bradley said the Chargers should expect a big dose of it, especially considering rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer has scored on three runs in the Browns’ past four games.
“I think when you see it — especially if they’re effective, if you start seeing them have success with it — you’re going to see it more and more and more,” Bradley said. “It’s something that we’re aware of. But they have a wide variety of things that they’re forcing us to prepare for. We could see anything.”
Hayward player of month
Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward was named the AFC defensive player of the month on Thursday, the second Chargers defender to earn the honor this season (joining defensive end Melvin Ingram).
Hayward had three interceptions in November while allowing few completed passes.
“He’s always had good ball skills. Any time he’s close to the ball, sometimes he comes down with it, and he has four times this year,” Lynn said. “[Defensive backs coach] Ron Milus has done a hell of a job with him on his man-to-man techniques. He covered Dez [Bryant] probably better than anybody did last week. And he’s had No. 1s every single week. He just keeps accepting the challenge of getting better and better.”
Hayward is away from the team after the death of his brother in a car accident earlier this week, but is expected to return for Sunday’s game.