It was a defensive performance to be proud of for a variety of reasons.
The Browns came into the game boasting the NFL’s second-ranked rushing attack, averaging 144.6 yards per game.
The Chargers held them well under that mark with 103. Not counting two scrambles by Baker Mayfield, the team’s “three-headed monster” of Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson and Nick Chubb combined for a mere 95 yards.
“At the end of the day, they didn’t have 100 yards rushing, and against those three backs and that offensive line, that’s outstanding by our rush defense,” said Head Coach Anthony Lynn. “They did a heck of a job.”
Meanwhile, the pass rush continued to emerge as the team sacked Mayfield five times, led by Corey Liuget and Damion Square with 1.5 apiece. Isaac Rochel (1.0), Derwin James (0.5) and Rayshawn Jenkins (0.5) were the others to get to the QB.
The Bolts got to the quarterback three times in the first quarter. The trio of first quarter sacks tied for the most in a first quarter in franchise history when they posted three sacks at Oakland on Sept. 28, 2008. In addition, their four sacks in the first half were their most in the first 30 minutes of play since they had four vs. the Packers on Nov. 6, 2011.
The Chargers were also once again stout in their own territory.
After Philip Rivers put L.A. on the board with a five-play touchdown drive to start the game, the Browns had the ball at midfield or in Chargers territory for several possessions.
The first two ended with punts, while the third, which began at the Bolts’ 33-yard line, resulted merely in a field goal.
“I have to tell you, our defense, they protect every inch,” Lynn said. “They’re in it until the end. You just never know. When a guy is on the one-yard line, that doesn’t faze me because we protect every inch.”
While it was a day to remember overall, the play of the linebackers deserves special recognition.
The Bolts came into the game banged up at the position as Kyzir White missed his third-straight game with a knee injury and Jatavis Brown didn’t suit up Sunday.
To make up for it, the Chargers made several subtle changes that may have gone unnoticed to most spectators but reaped major rewards.
Denzel Perryman is the team’s starting Mike linebacker, yet there he was in base packages at Will.
Kyle Emmanuel is the team’s Otto, but today he was in there at Mike.
Meanwhile, Uchenna Nwosu usually splits his time between the defensive line and OTTO spot. Today, he was the team’s main Otto linebacker.
The result speaks for itself.
“I thought Denzel moving over to Will, playing a position he hadn’t played all year, was outstanding,” Lynn said. “Kyle Emanuel went to Mike. Uchenna (Nwosu) did a fine job at the Otto position, or Sam. I thought those guys made some nice adjustments and they executed.”
While all three are linebacker positions, Emanuel explained how different each spot is from the others. So, even though it may seem like a minor switch to outsiders, it was far more complicated than that.
“It’s a lot different,” Emanuel said. “Honestly, your reads are different. Your keys are different. Being behind the ball, you see things differently. I like it because you get to be a little bit more in the action. You’re more in the middle of the field, and it’s something different… I thought it went smooth. Denzel did a really good job of helping me out. I try to help Uchenna out when I can. We’re a pretty close group. (LB) Coach (Richard) Smith does a good job of moving us around. He’s been doing it for a long time, so I thought I went pretty well.”
Those weren’t the only players who needed to step up as safeties Adrian Phillips and Rayshawn Jenkins were used in the traditional linebacker spot as well.
AP has played that box safety spot in the past in what amounts to an extra linebacker, and once again rose to the occasion. The veteran safety has two passes defensed, including a pivotal one in the end zone at the end of the first half. Meanwhile, Jenkins recorded the first sack of his career when he took down Baker Mayfield alongside Liuget.
“It’s a little different, but you get used to it,” Phillips explained. “In this defense, the safeties are in the box a lot more anyway. Honestly, we’re just moving one gap over. But the game can be a little faster (at that spot) because you’re in one of the primary gaps. You have to make your read faster. But it’s good. And we played well as a defense today.”