Running game on track for stretch run

The running game has found its groove and the Chargers are benefiting from the renewed wealth of open running lanes.

Chargers Report Card: PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus -- Philip Rivers didn't throw a TD pass in a game for the first time this season. He wasn't his usual precise self, but more important, he took care of the ball. Seven receivers caught passes; strange that Antonio Gates had only two thrown his way. The Chargers allowed three sacks, as the pass protection was spotty early on.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- The Chargers finally got around to sticking the ball in LaDainian Tomlinson's gut, and guess what: He rushed for 172 yards and three scores. He only had seven rushes in the first half, and five of those came on the first possession. Run-blocking was on the mark in the second half, and don't overlook FB Lorenzo Neal clearing the way for Tomlinson.

PASS DEFENSE: C -- The Chargers committed too many penalties, and six of the team's season-high 12 came via the secondary. CB Drayton Florence had a rough afternoon. S Clinton Hart was beaten for a whopper -- 52 yards. CB Quentin Jammer was picked on, too. But the Chargers did keep Charlie Frye to 236 passing yards and one score.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- Reuben Droughns was shut down, as he averaged 1.9 yards per carry. The return of DE Igor Olshansky gave the run defense a boost. ILB Randall Godfrey tied for the team lead with nine tackles and added a sack. NT Jamal Williams once again was a monster in the middle. His six tackles only tell a portion of the story.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- The Chargers received a penalty for calling consecutive timeouts. They also allowed a kick return for 47 yards and a punt return for 81 yards. They got nothing of note on the return game.

COACHING: A -- The Chargers sleepwalked through the first half and trailed 12-10 at halftime. Marty Schottenheimer tore into his charges with everything he had, and apparently the team got the message. Weird the Chargers didn't go to the running game earlier, but it worked out in the end. Kudos to defensive coordinator Wade Phillips for supplying a keen game plan to a defense that was littered with second-stringers.

Browns Report Card:

PASSING OFFENSE: D -- Charlie Frye wound up with decent numbers – 236 yards and a touchdown -- but many of them came late when the Browns were down 14. Cleveland's only touchdown came with 1:11 left. Frye's main problems were the pass rush and the team's inability to score more than one touchdown in six trips to or inside the Chargers' 20-yard-line. No team will win many games that way.

RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- Reuben Droughns had one more carry than LaDainian Tomlinson and 136 fewer yards. Droughns' 36 yards on 19 carries were an accurate reflection of the team's inability to run the ball.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- Considering the Browns were playing with their fifth and sixth corners, this unit did well. Cleveland started the game without Gary Baxter, Daylon McCutcheon and Daven Holly and lost Leigh Bodden early. That forced the defense to use Jereme Perry and Ralph Brown at corner. This was not the tandem the Browns envisioned using when the season started. But even with the inexperience at corner, the Chargers did little in the passing game in the way of big plays. Philip Rivers completed some passes, but the Chargers did most of their damage in the running game, not the passing game.

RUSH DEFENSE: D -- Weird day. For a long time it seemed like the Browns had LaDainian Tomlinson bottled up. Yet he exploded in the final 16 minutes for 123 yards and three touchdowns. It's not realistic to expect a team to stop Tomlinson, but it is realistic to expect to make him work a little harder for his yards. Tomlinson wound up averaging 9.6 yards per carry.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- This unit continues to be the bell cow of the team, as the Browns had 237 yards in returns. Dennis Northcutt's 81-yard punt return set up a field goal, and Joshua Cribbs had a 47-yard kickoff return. Phil Dawson was perfect on a team-record six field goals, and Dave Zastudil's punting continues to be excellent.

COACHING: B -- The Browns were an outmanned team against San Diego, yet they led at halftime and late in the third period. And they did this with four starters inactive and a fifth who was hurt early in the game. Somehow, Romeo Crennel and crew held the team together to play the Chargers close. More important, the Browns truly seemed to believe they could win the game, which is a testament to the team's belief in its coaches. A poor fourth quarter did them in, but the effort and plan and will were clearly present.


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