The Cleveland Browns played a chess match with Phillip Rivers and the Chargers Sunday, and lost. Here's what happened.

Were the Browns too aggressive on defense against a veteran quarterback like Phillip Rivers on Sunday?

In the days leading up to the Browns 30-27 loss to the San Diego Chargers, the focus of the defense was to minimize their mental errors, improve the tackling and fundamentals/technique.

Despite facing a San Diego team that was likely to be depleted along the offensive line, the Browns staff respected QB Philip Rivers, but believed an opportunity to pressure him due to the injury issues would be beneficial.

As the week of practice commenced, the Browns believed the chances of CB Joe Haden playing were questionable. Haden (broken finger / ribs) participated in practice during the week, but was not involved in contact  since Thursday, as the veteran was struggling with pain and immobility issues.

There was some concern that with the San Diego passing game — specifically the wide recievers and Rivers playing at a high level, the defense could potentially face some match-up issues. The Browns defensive staff schemed to pressure and get the ball out of Rivers' hands quickly, as the Browns staff believed the coverage scheme should be aggressive in the short-area game.

A benefit in pressuring the box and receivers would be against the run, as the Chargers offensive line with limited reps together would struggle to communicate. The Browns would deploy some elaborate gap blitz looks to exploit this lack of chemistry

Early in the first quarter, the Browns pressure at the point of attack was relentless and getting to the Chargers and Rivers. Appearing unsettled, the Browns continued to tune-up the blitz.

On their third series of the game, the Chargers began to spread the field, forcing the Browns off their point, as well as getting into the offensive set quicker. The Browns, unable to overload the Chargers offense, would quickly become ordinary — the beginning to what would become a big day for Rivers and the Chargers offense.

The Chargers changed things up a bit, but Rivers began to get a little time to see where the Browns were coming from and worked the areas the Browns' defense vacated. The Browns defensive alignment — with linebackers picking up crossing receivers as the safeties were vacating inside the hashes, was exposed.

Seeing that the Browns were’t pressing the receivers and jumping routes, Rivers looked to bait the youth of the Browns cornerbacks (Pierre Desir and Johnson Bademosi) in the short-game, before looking over the top.

When the Browns showed man, Rivers changed out at the line and picked his match-up — as he did on touchdown passes to Keenan Allen - 1 cover late (28-yds over Desir) and Ladarius Green (19-yds over Whitner) 0-cover.

In what became a chess-match, Rivers' ability to change out of plays at the line won the battle against an ever-aggressive Jim O’Neil (Browns defensive coordinator) defense that would sell-out, show cover 0 or cover 1 — a huge risk and one which exposed the defense to big play opportunities.

You can’t run this look for long, not with a liability like Donte Whitner in coverage.


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