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News, Scores, Teams, Stories & More on Northeast OH Sports on cleveland.com

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    The Cleveland Browns have gained respect from opponents this season. But can it turn into more wins? That's a tough next step.

    ABOUT EXPECTATIONS

    "A scary team."

    That's what L.A. Chargers Coach Anthony Lynn said about the Browns -- and he was talking about the winless 2017 version.

    "I know they didn't win a game," said Lynn. "But you could see it coming. It was just a matter of time."

    Lynn's Chargers beat the Browns 19-10 last season in L.A.

    In the past, opposing coaches said nice things about the Browns primarily because they were trying to keep their own teams from being complacent. But with a 2-2-1 record this season and no loss by more than three points, the Browns have earned respect around the NFL.

    With that comes expectations and even way-too-early adulation from the beaten-down Browns fan base.

    I've heard fans talking about winning records and playoff berths this season.

    It's far more possible now than I ever dreamed at the start of the season.

    Chargers star quarterback Philip Rivers sounds like a starry-eyed Browns fan when he told the Cleveland media: "Shoot, (the Browns) are a couple of plays here and there from having won them all."

    Rivers added, "(Baker Mayfield) is a heck of a player...He plays with the ability to win...He has kind of energized the whole team and fan base."

    How will the Browns react to all the hype?

    That's what makes Sunday's game with the Chargers so fascinating. They come to town with a 3-2 record.The losses are to the Rams and Chiefs, two teams with a combined 10-0 record.

    This is a game where we'll not only learn a lot about the Browns, but also about their coaching staff.

    Jackson has never been in this position -- expected to win a fair amount of games.

    Remember that 2-2-1 feels so good because it comes after 1-31 in Jackson's previous two seasons.

    "We haven't done anything yet," Jackson told the media after Thursday's practice. "We haven't qualified for anything. We have won two football games."

    Jackson's right.

    He stressed the coaches would "keep this team grounded."

    Sunday will be a test to see if that happens.

    HALEY'S STANDARD

    Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley is pounding away about keeping the turnover margin in Cleveland's favor. The sometimes grumpy Haley has been around long enough to know how easily the Browns could lose focus.

    As Haley told the media, each week he shows his offense the stats of teams who force more turnovers than they commit.

    Haley said "The records were 4-1 if you were plus-1, 5-2 if you were plus-2 or better. There is no bigger stat."

    Heading into the weekend, the Browns are an NFL-best plus-8 in turnovers: They've committed seven while the defense has forced 15.

    The Chargers are a challenge because they have committed only five turnovers in five games. Rivers has thrown only a pair of interceptions.

    Odds are against the Browns defense having a huge day in terms of forcing turnovers.

    So the offense has to avoid those critical mistakes.

    Teams now have 10 quarters of regular season tape to study Mayfield at quarterback.

    The knee injury to Rashard Higgins means the Browns have Jarvis Landry and several rookie receivers: Antonio Callaway, Derrick Willies and Damion Ratley (if active). Willies is dealing with a a shoulder injury and is out.

    Higgins has been the team's second-best receiver after Landry. The front office likes veteran Rod Streater, who caught 60 passes in 2013. But he's only caught 28 in the last four years as he's had a variety of injuries. He'll probably be active for the game.

    The Browns are going for their second win in a row. They haven't had two consecutive victories since 2014.

    "You can say we've been in more close games than anyone else," said Haley. "We are sharpening our sword for hopefully critical situations going forward...I have to believe we are as mentally hardened as anybody. We have to use that to our advantage going forward."

    ABOUT DUKE JOHNSON

    1. You can't keep three running backs happy. That's the situation for the Browns with Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson and Nick Chubb. Johnson is the one who has been frustrated by not having the ball as much as in the past.

    2. But the odds are against the Browns having three running backs stay healthy for the entire season. That's why General Manager John Dorsey signed Hyde and then drafted Chubb in the second round. He wants depth at that position.

    3. Haley has made a commitment to running the ball. The Browns lead the NFL in rushing attempts (31.4 per game). They are No. 2 in rushing yards per game (145). So it's not as if the Browns can create significantly more running plays for Johnson.

    4. Haley believes Hyde is the type of bullish runner who becomes stronger with more carries. So he has 100 of the team's 157 carries. Johnson is second with 17. Chubb has 13.

    5. I believe Johnson's frustration is more due to his lack of activity in the passing game. He has caught only 10 passes in five games. A year ago, he had 74 catches (16 games).

    6. Haley needs to employ Johnson more in the passing game, perhaps as a slot receiver. With all the injuries, the team needs help in that area. Johnson is the only NFL running back with at least 50 catches in each of the last three seasons.

    7. In the previous two years when Haley was calling plays in Pittsburgh, running back Le'Veon Bell caught 150 total passes. So Haley has plays to throw the ball to running backs.

    ABOUT THE BROWNS

    1. Interesting comment from Gregg Williams: "Watch how many times Philip Rivers takes the play clock down to one (second)." The defensive coordinator was talking about how Rivers waits until the play-clock is about to expire. That gives Rivers time see what the defense is doing in terms of formations -- and makes it harder for the defenses.

    2. Williams on crowd noise at FirstEnergy Stadium: "I remember coming up here with the old Houston Oilers at the old Stadium and how loud it was...the last two home games...it's been so loud." Williams loves how the stadium is rocking.

    3. Williams said linebacker Joe Schobert can't hear the calls from Williams on the helmet headset. He said that's good, "because it means Philip Rivers can't hear, either." Williams said he uses hand signals to Schobert, and he wants the stadium even louder when the Browns are on defense.

    4. Every week, Williams seems to rave about Schobert, his middle linebacker. He calls the Wisconsin product "the quarterback of the defense." Williams discussed Schobert's ability as a high school basketball player -- and how he's "an excellent athlete." In fact, Williams said he should use Schobert more to rush the passer from the outside in certain situations.

    5. Williams also said the Browns have had 13 more plays where "we've had two hands on the ball," meaning they should have far more turnovers. You can see how in the second year under Williams, the defense is growing and adapting to his schemes and approach.


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    "He cashed for $2.1 million?" said one handicapper. "Good for him. One more like that and he'll be even."

    CLEVELAND, Ohio - Racetrack characters are getting to be like dinosaurs. The proliferations of casinos and racinos have left just a few of them to roam the barn areas and grandstands of Thistledown and Northfield Park.

    Gary Johnson, a thoroughbred horseman and a handicapper, is one of the rare survivors. At 60, he has spent all but the first 15 years of his life at the races. He has appeared, disappeared and reappeared more times at Thistledown than a bad bettor's bankroll.

    Johnson is back these days in Barn 18 at the Route 8 oval as a trainer of more than three dozen horses. Rival horsemen and veteran handicappers know well of the grandfather of eight.

    Before he sold his tack and said farewell to the backstretch for a second time in 2008, the native of Cleveland, who now calls Maple Heights home, won 28 training titles, all but one of them at Thistledown.

    Johnson stepped away because of his prowess as a handicapper. With a copy of the Daily Racing Form as his baton, he has conducted many a successful pari-mutuel symphony at Thistledown and on races at other North American tracks.

    The one play that tops all his science of the turf conquests came in 1991, when Johnson was the mastermind of a Breeders Cup Pick 7 ticket that cost $3,180.

    It came the year after he first gave up training horses after a frustrating 2-for-44 season at Thistledown.

    Not a single bettor in America had all seven winners of the Breeders' Cup races conducted at Churchill Downs, but at Johnson's direction, his group of 10 Greater Cleveland investors had the six winners needed to share in the multi-million dollar jackpot.

    "The payoffs weren't known until the next day," recalls Johnson. "I was broke until then. I had to borrow money to go drinking the night we hit."

    Twenty-four hours later, Johnson was the toast of the track. He and his group cashed for $2.1 million. It's believed Johnson's reward was 10 percent of the winnings.

    His Thistledown peers were impressed, but with a biting postscript.

    "He cashed for $2.1 million?" said one of them. "Good for him. One more like that and he'll be even."

    Johnson takes the criticism in stride. "I'm a good handicapper, but I admit to being a horrible bettor," he said.

    Hard work at the racetrack, which usually requires beating sunrise to the barn area, has never been a problem for Johnson. It led to a historic training accomplishment in 2001.

    Being Thistledown's leading trainer wasn't enough for Johnson. He established a satellite stable that year at Mountaineer Park in West Virginia, where he challenged the dominance of Dale Baird, the winningest trainer in North America thoroughbred history.

    "I'd make the 100-mile trip to Mountaineer every night from Thistledown," said Johnson. "It all but killed me, but I beat Baird (40 winners to 38 winners) on the final evening of racing. He hadn't lost a meeting down there for 20 years."

    Conquering Baird came at a price. It landed Johnson in the hospital for four days.

    "I was treated for dehydration," he said. "First time I was ever in a hospital. I ran myself ragged going from Thistledown to Mountaineer and back five days a week."

    After knocking Baird from his throne, Johnson continued to train a large stable for another seven years, at one point approaching 150 horses, but eventually quit to go on the road for the National Handicapping Championship tour, a series of weekly tournaments with rich prize pools at tracks across the country that culminated each year with the final in Las Vegas.

    "I teamed up with Mike and Cheryl McIntyre (of Massillon)," said Johnson. "We were on the road almost every weekend. We did tournaments for 10 years and we did quite well."

    But at the 2017 NHC finals in Las Vegas, Johnson transitioned from a daydream to an epiphany.

    "I don't know what was going on in my mind, but I'm at the Treasure Island and suddenly I started missing the backside. And I wanted to be close to home and my grandkids, which meant stopping all the traveling."

    When Johnson got back to Cleveland, he hopped in his car and drove to Tampa Bay Downs, where he bought a racehorse.

    "I had no gear, so I had to go to the tack shop and buy a halter," said Johnson. "I then told the McIntyres what I wanted to do and Mike told me I was crazy."

    Crazy is what crazy does. The McIntyres, racing under the name of Irish Charm Stable, are now Johnson's biggest clients with over 30 horses. He also trains Ron Paolucci's Loooch Stables, as well as former Akron Firestone High basketball coach Jerry Laria.

    In 29 years of training, Johnson has saddled 1,403 winners from 9,291 starters for a respectable 15 percent win rate. His barn has more than held its own in finishing in the money (no worse than third) with 41 percent of his charges doing so.

    Besides his more than two dozen titles and halting Baird's Mountaineer run, Johnson has two remarkable accomplishments. He once won six races in one day, four at Thistledown and the other two at Mountaineer.

    "Years ago, when all three Ohio thoroughbred tracks (Thistledown, River Downs and Beulah Park), ran on Kentucky Derby day, I had horses entered at all of them," said Johnson. "I saddled the Thistledown horse and won, and then watched on closed-circuit television as I also won at the Cincinnati and Columbus tracks."

    When Thistledown concludes its 100-day season on Oct. 20, Johnson will pack up his stable and ship to Mahoning Valley Race Course outside of Youngstown for another 100 afternoons of racing, most of it during the winter months.

    "I know the weather can be and will be brutal at Mahoning Valley, but I'm not going to complain," said Johnson. "Nobody on the racetrack has lived a more blessed life than me. I'm really, really blessed."


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    Very worried about the Cleveland Browns inept special teams costing them the game.

    CLEVELAND -- Scribbles in my notebook as the Browns prepare to face the L.A. Chargers:

    1. All week, people keep asking me about the Browns. Something very special happened when they beat Baltimore, 12-9, in overtime last Sunday. Call it hope. Not hope against hope. Not pure wishful thinking. Hope based on the Browns winning the type of game they usually lose. And the Browns doing it against a team that was 17-3 against them since John Harbaugh became coach of the Ravens.

    2. I had a friend show me his beautifully embroidered Browns cap. "I bought it in 2015 for five bucks," he said. "It's probably a $50 cap. I put it away figuring one day, I can finally wear it." He was tired of friends seeing his Browns stuff and making fun of him.

    3. He put it on after they beat the New York Jets, 21-17. That was Baker Mayfield's debut, leading the Browns back from a 14-0 deficit. But now, so many people are putting on their old (and new) Browns caps, jerseys and jackets.

    4. For the Browns, this would be a huge win because it would make them 3-2-1. Yes, after six games, they would be a legitimate playoff contender with a winning record. The fan base would be in football heaven. I've even heard some fans just assume the Browns will win this game. After all, they beat Baltimore.

    5. The Chargers scare me. Philip Rivers is an elite quarterback who gets rid of the ball quickly. He's like Drew Brees in that respect. He's 36 years old, and some of these quarterbacks don't even hit their peak until their middle 30s. Rivers is one of those, and he's thrown only two interceptions compared to 13 TD passes. He is completing 70 percent of his passes.

    6. A key to the Browns' surprising rise has been their defense forcing a league-high 15 turnovers. They need to bring some pressure on Rivers. The Chargers have some key injuries on their offensive line. But it's hard to reach Rivers. He has been sacked only six times and gets rid of the ball quickly.

    7. Myles Garrett has five sacks in five games. He would be a prime weapon against Rivers, especially since the Chargers have had problems keeping their offensive tackles healthy. Demonstrating that Garrett is becoming an elite player, Profootballfocus (PFF) credits him with 12 "stops" against the run. That means he closes holes and brings down the runner.

    8. PFF rates Garrett as the No. 1 "edge defender" against the run. That's impressive, given his main job is to rush the passer. That could be important, because the Chargers are No. 6 rushing the ball (4.6 yards per carry). Melvin Gordon (4.6 yards) and Austin Ekeler (6.0 yards) have combined for 537 yards in five games.

    9. The Browns' defense against the run is no longer a disaster. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams immediately changed that when he was hired in 2017. Under Williams, the Browns went from No. 28 (4.6 yards) in 2016 to No. 2 (3.4 yards) in 2017. The Browns rank No. 18 this season (4.1 yards) against the run.

    10. Other than rookie Sam Darnold, the Browns have faced either good or great quarterbacks this season: Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh), Joe Flacco (Baltimore), Drew Brees (New Orleans), Derek Carr (Oakland) and now Rivers. That's why the Browns allowing only 22.6 points (No. 12) is impressive. Only once (45-42 loss to Oakland) have they given up more than 21 points.

    11. The Chargers play a solid 4-3 defense under Gus Bradley, a respected coordinator. They are ranked 15th overall and middle of the pack in most areas.

    12. Former Brown Travis Benjamin has caught only two passes this season and played only two games. He's out with a foot injury. Akron University product Jatavis Brown is out with a groin injury. Brown was a fifth-round pick by the Chargers in 2016, and he's had a nice career. He's started 14 games and been a core special teams player.

    13. The wide receiver situation is a major concern. Rashard Higgins (knee) and Derrick Willies (broken collar bone) could be out for quite a while. They signed Beshad Perriman, a former 2015 first-round pick by Baltimore. He never could get his pro career going. He missed his rookie season with a knee injury. He caught only 43 passes over the next two years, and had nine dropped passes (according to PFF).

    14. Perriman had a very rocky 2017 with the Ravens. He had only 10 catches compared to four drops. The Ravens brought him back in 2018, and he had a respectable preseason with 11 catches for 136 yards. That included a 32-yard TD pass. But the Ravens cut him on Sept. 1. He was signed by Washington, then cut.

    15. In some ways, Perriman is like Corey Coleman. He is a first-round physical talent who has had injuries and can't seem to find his confidence. Sometimes, a fresh start helps a player like that. Perriman did look better in the preseason. If he doesn't practice well, the Browns can quickly cut him.

    16. In training camp, Coleman was traded to Buffalo, where he was cut. Then he was signed and cut by New England...twice. He recently worked out for Tampa Bay, but the Bucs didn't sign the Browns' 2016 first-rounder.

    17. I want to pick the Browns in this game, but I worry about Rivers...and the Browns' dreadful special teams. The final verdict, the winning field goal against Baltimore, was partially blocked - but somehow made it through the goal posts.

    18. There is no question that Browns kicker Gregg Joseph has a powerful leg. He booms the kickoffs deep into the end zone. But kickers earn their real money on extra points and field goals. I don't trust him...or the special teams in general.

    19. I dwell on the special teams because they continue to make negative plays. They have 11 penalties in five games. To be fair to Joseph, he is 3-of-4 on extra points and 6-of-7 on field goals. Several kicks have not been pretty, but they counted. But he still makes me nervous.

    20. Time for a prediction. Not sure why, but I have a bad feeling about this game: Chargers 20, Browns 17. It's an old theme, but I don't trust the special teams. They are going to continue to haunt the Browns in these close games until the Browns fix it.


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    Doug and Bill discuss Ohio State's offensive line coming off a win over Minnesota. Watch video

    COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State's offensive line had its worst performance of the season on Saturday against Minnesota. "Worst" being relative, because the Buckeyes still finished with 504 yards of offense in a 30-14 win. 

    But Dwayne Haskins was sacked three times, and Minnesota had nine tackles for loss. The OSU run game was held under 100 yards for the first time since 2016, and had its most inefficient performance since 2014. 

    There's more than one issue at play with Ohio State's offense, but one of them is the play of the line over the last two games, whether the struggles are a mid-season blip or something more significant.  

    Neither Urban Meyer nor offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said that personnel changes were a possibility on the offensive line, part of that likely stemming from the depth not being great right now due to injuries. Branden Bowen, a starter last year at guard, is still coming back from a broken leg suffered last year. Brady Taylor, projected to be the starting center this year, is still out with a knee injury. 

    Both could be back relatively soon, and then there are also young players who haven't had their shot yet. 

    It doesn't feel like panic mode just yet with the offensive line, but if changes are being pondered, we discussed some potential options in the video above. 


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    Haubeil made three field goals in Ohio State's win over Minnesota. Watch video

    COLUMBUS, Ohio -- On Ohio State's first two made field goals on Saturday against Minnesota, the stadium public address announcer gave credit to Buckeye kicker Sean Nuernberger.

    Kicker changes are hard to notice sometimes. 

    It wasn't Nuernberger kicking for the Buckeyes on Saturday. He was out with an undisclosed injury. So Blake Haubeil, a sophomore who had been handling kickoff duties this year, took his first shot at kicking field goals against the Gophers. 

    Turns out he was needed, and turns out he's pretty good. 

    Haubeil connected on all three of his field goal attempts in a 30-14 win. Two of those game when Ohio State drives stalled in the red zone. The Buckeyes got into the red zone three times on Saturday, but never scored a touchdown. Haubeil at least made sure they got points on two of those trips. 

    "It was great," Haubeil said. "It was a point in the game where needed a field goal. Just went out there and executed."

    His best kick, though, came midway through the third quarter when he drove a ball through from 47 yards out. That was the longest made field goal for an OSU kicker since Nuernberger hit from 49 against Penn State in 2014. 

    "I'm just ready whenever my number is called," Haubeil said. "I've hit from 60 before in a high school game. I know that's not the same, but I feel pretty comfortable 60 and in."

    Haubeil is on scholarship, and he was the No. 4 kicker in the country coming out of high school. So it's not surprising that he'd flash some leg strength in his first chance kicking field goals. But when it looked like he might have to wait three years to get a chance, an injury put him in position to perhaps hold down the job for the rest of the season. 

    Here are more notes, quotes and nuggets from Ohio State's win:

    * Among the former OSU players in attendance on Saturday were J.T. Barrett, Michael Thomas, Jamarco Jones and Cameron Johnston. 

    * Members of the 1968 national championship team were honored during the game on the 50th anniversary of their title. 

    * Dwayne Haskins became the first quarterback in program history to post back-to-back 400-yard passing games. He completed 33 of 44 passes for 412 yards and three touchdowns.

    "We wanted to finish a couple drives, score some touchdowns, but we had some penalties," Haskins said. "I wouldn't say it's frustration. Just like, we have higher expectations for ourselves than what we do sometimes on the field. Today was just figuring out what worked and then going out and executing."

    For the season Haskins has completed 72.3 percent of his passes for 2,331 yards, 28 touchdowns and four interceptions. He leads the country in touchdown passes, and is third in completion percentage, quarterback rating and yards.

    * Last week Ohio State's defense gave up more than 300 yards to Indiana in the first half, and then held the Hoosiers to less than three yards per play in the second half. Saturday's defensive performance against Minnesota wasn't as unbalanced, but big plays remained an issue. 

    Minnesota averaged 7.4 yards per play in the first half, and 6.5 yards per play in the second half. Though, the Buckeyes did not allow any points in the second half and held to Gophers to one first down on five attempts in the second half. 

    * Urban Meyer was asked again if he plans on getting more involved with the defense. 

    "I do that every week, not just when it's negative, because I want to know what's going on," Meyer said. "I have great confidence still. I think five starters are out right now. You lost Damon Arnette, (Robert) Landers really did not play, and then you have Malik Harrison and Jonathon Cooper (in addition to Nick Bosa). So everybody's dealing with it, but it's a fact, and we have to play better."

    * Ohio State has won 12 games in a row dating back to last year. That's the second-longest streak in FBS. For a time on Saturday it looked like it might become the longest. UCF, which owns the longest streak at 19 games, was down 30-14 to Memphis in the second half before rallying to win 31-30.

    * Sixteen of punter Drue Chrisman's 25 punts this season have been downed inside the 20-yard line. 


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    Minnesota hung around all day Saturday in a 30-14 Ohio State win and showed one thing on both sides of the ball that may work for future OSU opponents. Watch video

    COLUMBUS, Ohio --  On a Saturday when the teams ranked No. 2, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8 lost, and No. 5 trailed for 55 minutes, a 16-point win by No. 3 Ohio State can look more like gritty survival and less like worrisome sluggishness.

    Or not.

    Because what Minnesota showed in Ohio Stadium in week seven in a 30-14 win by Ohio State may have been the closest thing yet to a gameplan to beat the Buckeyes. 

    TCU ran super-quick tempo in week three, but for most teams that's unsustainable.

    Penn State attempted to take away the deep passing game in week five, but much of what the Nittany Lions did was predicated on rattling the Buckeyes in a hostile environment, and Ohio State won't play in a rocking road stadium like that again.

    But Minnesota had a plan, on both sides of the ball, just like Iowa did a year ago. With a walkon freshman quarterback, key injuries at running back and in the secondary, and one of the youngest teams in the country, the Golden Gophers (3-3, 0-3 Big Ten) weren't a team that could do more than scare Ohio State.

    But Minnesota led twice early, was within a touchdown entering the fourth quarter and did all that while missing two field goals, losing the turnover battle 3-0 and suffering from an iffy fourth-down spot that led directly to an Ohio State touchdown. 

    Here are the two primary things the Gophers did to make that happen.

    In Purdue (3-3, 2-1), Michigan State (4-2, 2-1), Maryland (4-2, 2-1) and Michigan (6-1, 4-0), four of the five teams left on the OSU schedule have a better chance than Minnesota to turn a plan into a win.

    1. CATCH THE OHIO STATE LINEBACKERS IN NO MAN'S LAND

    Minnesota is an RPO team, and the Golden Gophers used that to great effect all day, slicing Ohio State up in the middle of the field and forcing the linebackers to feel like there were wrong no matter what they did.

    Minnesota hit slant after slant, the Gophers throwing for 218 yards and putting together four drives of at least 58 yards.

    "We knew the looks we were going to be able to get," Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said. "They played the exact looks we want to be able to get, and we took advantage of that."

    All those inside throws were RPOs, or run-pass options. The Gophers go to the line with two options on a play, and decide whether to hand off or execute a quick pass based on how the defenders, often the linebackers, react.

    With Ohio State's linebackers typically playing close to the line of scrimmage, and the OSU secondary playing man defense, Minnesota threw to open windows inside with no defender in a passing lane. When Ohio State's linebackers stayed back, they ran.

    "It's tough," linebacker Pete Werner said. "What we did was how we're supposed to play it, although we don't want them to catch the ball, and that defender is supposed to stop them. It's hard, because the linebacker is supposed to adjust. If (the quarterback) sees me run in, he's obviously not going to hand the ball off, he's going to pass it. But if I stay back, they're going to run the ball and I'm too late."

    Werner knows the Buckeyes got beat more on the slant than the run Saturday, and by the second half, the plan had Werner trying to hang in passing lanes a little more.

    "It's just the alignment and trying to get in the throwing lanes of the quarterback as best as possible," Werner said.

    This whole discussion is why RPOs are so popular. But Ohio State may be particularly open to RPOs right now for two reasons.

    1. They're often playing their linebackers close to the line of scrimmage to help an injured and tired defensive line.

    2. They play man coverage in the secondary, and the corners are getting beat at times in this risky plan.

    So while RPOs are the bane of every defense's existence, it's really a smart way to put strain on the Buckeyes.

    "In the RPO game, every guy you commit to the run is one less guy you commit to the pass," co-defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. "It is a chess match. What does that mean? It means you've got to make sure you're gap sound, so to take a linebacker out of it to play coverage, you leave yourself susceptible that way. It's a back and forth. So you mix things, you mix coverages to get a more advantageous situation for the DB and then you have to make that play."

    Grinch said when you don't make that play early, you give opponents the confidence to try it all day.

    So Minnesota did with the slant and moved the ball effectively. As usual, the OSU defense was better in the second half. Linebacker Justin Hilliard did get his hand on a third-down slant call in the red zone that may have saved a touchdown with Ohio State up only 20-14.

    But teams will try this again. Grinch, however, may have an answer to that.

    "Very few times do you say the slant loses you a football game," Grinch said. "But on the same token, it's frustrating and it leads to drives and it can lead to points, so it's never OK either. It's something where we've got to continue to mix up coverages and put pressure on quarterbacks and coordinators."

    He's right. The slant didn't lose the Buckeyes the game. They only gave up 14 points, despite all the times it felt like Ohio State was helpless to stop Minnesota. And the Buckeyes didn't give up the deep ball, and instead made two interceptions on long throws.

    But if a team like Purdue, for instance, is even more effective in the RPO plan? Ohio State could have something to worry about.

    2. LET DWAYNE HASKINS GO OFF

    When will opposing defenses stop Dwayne Haskins? Maybe never, because maybe that's not the way to beat Ohio State.

    The Ohio State quarterback ranks fourth in college football, throwing for 333 yards per game. But Ohio State ranks 52nd in rushing yards per game, averaging 185 yards per game.

    Minnesota was somewhat forced into its plan Saturday by injuries to two starters in the secondary and a lack of depth there. The Gophers didn't have the horses to stop Haskins. They sold out on the run, concentrated on making Ohio State one-dimensional, allowed 412 passing yards but only 92 rushing yards, and were happy to hold the Buckeyes to 23 points through the first 58 minutes.

    So maybe future opponents don't have to stop Haskins. They just have to stop an OSU run game, stand tall in the red zone and hope Haskins throwing the ball all over the field doesn't lead to a ton of points.

    "He's probably the front runner for the Heisman Trophy, one of the best quarterbacks if not the best quarterback in the country," Fleck said of Haskins. "Ryan Day has done an outstanding job developing that young man. He's a tremendous coordinator, a tremendous play caller and you could see when he was the head coach what they were doing with him. He's outstanding.

    "In our conference, you've got to stop the run. If you don't stop the run, it's going to be over before it starts."

    Haskins, through seven games, has been enough of an answer, and more. But against another great defense down the road?

    Maybe the idea is let Haskins operate between the 20s, but know the OSU run game won't hurt you, and know the Buckeyes inside the 20 aren't quite the same offense. The Buckeyes have scored touchdowns on 21 of 32 trips to the red zone, and that 65.6 percent TD rate ranks 61st in the country.

    The Buckeyes didn't score a touchdown on three red zone trips Saturday, with two field goals and failed run on fourth-and-1.

    So Ohio State hasn't lost. The Buckeyes join Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson and North Carolina among the last five power conference unbeatens.

    That's quite something.

    Saturday, Minnesota showed some things that might make holding onto that perfect record more difficult.


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    Perriman, signed by the Browns on Saturday, is inactive today against the Chargers.

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Receiver Breshad Perriman, signed Saturday by the Browns, will have to wait for his chance to prove he's still got it.

    Perriman, the Ravens' 2015 first-round pick, was signed as an emergency receiver after undrafted rookie Derrick Willies broke his collarbone in practice on Friday. Willies was placed on injured reserve and will miss at the least eight weeks.

    The Browns were already in dire straits at receiver after Rashard Higgins went down against the Ravens with a sprained MCL that's expected to sideline him two to four weeks.

    Sixth-round receiver Damion Ratley, who's been inactive for three games this season, is active. Last week against the Ravens, Willies dressed and Ratley didn't.

    "Yes, it is a motivation, but I can't get mad because he was performing in places that I was not,'' he said. "It hurts not being active. It killed me, but I have to do what I have to do to help the team win."

    He said he worked even harder than usual to have a chance to play.

     "I work hard every week because every week I go against Denzel (Ward), and it's making me better along with trying to make him better,'' he said.

    Ratley acknowledged that he and Baker Mayfield developed good chemistry when they worked on the second team together in training camp and on the scout team during the season.

    Fellow receiver Rod Streater said Ratley's speed differentiates him. He was clocked in a 4.45 on his pro day at Texas A&M.

    "He's always bragging about his speed," Streater said. "He's always telling, 'Look at the GPS. I'm the fastest.' So he has the speed. I love his attitude. He's prepared."

    In other Browns roster news, linebacker James Burgess (knee) is active after missing the last two weeks. He was listed questionable. 

    Other inactives for the Browns are Drew Stanton, defensive back Tavierre Thomas, linebacker Tanner Vallejo, offensive lineman Earl Watford, and defensive lineman Carl Davis.

    Notable inactives for the Chargers are former Browns receiver Travis Benjamin (foot) and edge-rusher Joey Bosa.


       


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    Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield was sacked four times in the first half.

    CLEVELAND, Ohio  -- Scribbles in my Browns notebook at the half as the Chargers lead, 21-6.

    1. The Chargers have been showing some confusing coverages and defensive blitzes, and they have been bothering Baker Mayfield. The Browns quarterback has been hanging on to the ball too long. By the middle of the second quarter, Mayfield had been sacked four times.

    2. Mayfield was 14-of-28 passing for 170 yards. This was the first time where Mayfield didn't seem very decisive. He also had several throws sail high.

    3. The Browns wasted some excellent position. They started on the Cleveland 46, Chargers 33 and the Chargers 39...and only ended up with three points. That can cost a team in the long run.

    4. Myles Garrett has been bringing a lot of pressure on Chargers QB Philip Rivers. He had two quarterback hits, and batted a pass. He also drew a holding call.

    5. When Rivers had time, he showed he could still slice up a defense. He was 9-of-15 passing for 178 yards and 2 TDs.

    6. One of the worst mistakes by officials in a season a lousy ones happened late in the first half. Chargers tackle Russell Okung clearly jumped for a false start. The ball was snapped. Rivers threw a 29-yard TD pass to Ty Williams. I still fail to see how the officials missed that call -- and it did lead to a TD for the Chargers.

    7. I know I'm getting obsessed with special teams. But the Browns offense drew a flag on the opening kickoff. Denzel Rice was flagged for an illegal formation on a kickoff. Not sure I've seen that before on the first play of a game. This was Rice's fourth penalty on special teams this season.

    8. The Browns also gave up a 32-yard return on their first punt. That put the Chargers in position for their first drive, ending up with a TD.

    9. On the Browns first punt return, Damion Ratley was flagged for holding. Ratley also was flagged for holding on what could have been a long gain for running back Nick Chubb. Ratley did catch a 27-yard pass in the first half.

    10. Now, the good stuff. Greg Joseph kicked field goals of 33 and 28 yards -- and did it confidently. Jabrill Peppers had a 33-yard return of a punt.


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    Thomas was during Sunday's game. Watch video

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Joe Thomas received his first honor as a former Cleveland Brown on Sunday when his 10,363 consecutive snap streak went up into the team's Ring of Honor. It certainly won't be the last honor here for Thomas and his name and No. 73 will likely grace the ring of honor one day, too.

    Oh, and he has a bobblehead now, too.

    "It's beautiful. It's a gorgeous representation of me," Thomas said in his typical sarcastic tone. "My kid already ripped the head off."

    During the first timeout, Thomas served as the day's Dawg Pound Captain, leading the fans in a chant. The number 10,363 was unveiled along the Ring of Honor, a place where Thomas is likely to find his name and number among other Browns Hall of Fame players.

    The Ohio University Marching 110 performed at halftime. Their drums featured Thomas' No. 73 on them. They spelled out "THOMAS" as a banner with 10,363 was unfurled.

     

    Thomas said that his 50-person suite at FirstEnergy Stadium would be overflowing with friends and family who traveled to see the halftime ceremony.

    "It's a very emotional, special moment for me," Thomas said. "I'm honored to be able to come back and have the team do some really special things for me today and make me feel pretty good about some of the things I did during my career."

    It's no secret that Thomas looks more svelte than in his playing days. He said he's lost about 50 pounds. He has kept busy with the podcast he does with former Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, doing work for NFL Network around Thursday Night Football, doing work for Browns in-house media and with a new baby.

    "It's been real busy from that standpoint," he said.

    Thomas said it's been fun to see the team start to turn things around this season, winning two of their first five games and tying another. Even though his body wouldn't allow him to be a part of what he's deemed the turnaround season, it hasn't dampened his experience looking on from the outside.

    "Even though I wasn't physically on the team when we were able to turn it around, I feel like the turnaround has happened this year," he said, "and I hope that I was part of building the foundation for the turnaround."


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    The Chargers scored a touchdown late in the first half, but left tackle Russell Okung got an early start on the play.

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Late in the first half of Sunday's game, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers hit receiver Tyrell Williams for a 29-yard touchdown against the Browns.

    But on the play, left tackle Russell Okung got into motion before the snap, which should have been a false start.

    Replay of the score starts at about 0:25 in the Twitter video above. Okung takes several shuffle steps to his left, and the Browns' defensive line stopped, expecting a flag to be thrown. 

    But the officials did not call it, and the play gave the Chargers a 21-3 lead.

    Here is some reaction on Twitter to the missed call.


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    The Cleveland Browns had a lot of hype last week. It disappeared not long after the opening kickoff.

    CLEVELAND -- You knew the Browns were not exactly laser-focused on the game when they were flagged for lining up off-sides...on the opening kickoff!

    The guilty party was a young man named Denzel Rice.

    This is not to pick on him. So many men in orange helmets made so many ill-advised, unfocused mistakes. That's how they were embarrassed, 38-14, by the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.

    "We didn't come out and play the way we've been playing," admitted Browns coach Hue Jackson. "I take fully responsibility for that."

    Now, will the Browns learn from this football spanking?

    Too many with the Browns seemed far too giddy after their 12-9 overtime victory against Baltimore last Sunday.

    There was talk about the playoffs. There were hosanna's for rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield.

    There was fun with the "rally possum," and other gimmicks.

    There even was a practice visit by rapper Snoop Dogg.

    After saying it was "great" that Steelers fan Dogg stopped by, Jackson added: "There are going to be a lot of people who want to come on this wagon when the wagon gets rolling. And we're going to cycle the wagons. I know that because I didn't see any of these people the last two years."

    All of this "bandwagon" talk seemed rather pretentious for a team that had not won two games in a row since 2014.

    Now, it sounds downright silly.

    Jackson was tight-lipped. He kept saying, "We didn't play well."

    OUT-PLAYED, OUT-COACHED

    The Chargers not only out-played the Browns, their coaching staff came up with schemes that confused the home team.

    Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield looked confused by the various Charger defensive formations. By the middle of the second quarter, Mayfield was sacked four times. He had some passes dropped. But overall, it was the first time in his fourth pro game that Mayfield seemed like a rookie.

    Mayfield was 22-of-46 passing for 238 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He was sacked five times.

    Passes sailed high. He held on to the ball for too long. And he didn't get much help from his teammates.

    Near the end of the game, he sat on the bench with the same distant, sad stare of many Browns past quarterbacks. He obviously was wondering how it all went wrong.

    The Browns honored future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas during the game. He wore Mayfield's No. 6 jersey. Watching the game, I kept thinking how Thomas had so many dismal Sundays just like this. He blocked for a quarterback feeling overwhelmed on a team that looked severely undermanned.

    NOT SAME OLD BROWNS

    This is not to say the Browns in 2018 are destined to be the same old Browns.

    The team has improved on so many levels. Their record is 2-3-1. This is the first time they've been blown out in a game. But the NFL is an unforgiving place, especially for teams still trying to figure out how to win.

    The Browns' defense seemed a bit full of itself after shutting down Baltimore last week. Philip Rivers quickly took care of that. The veteran quarterback sliced up that defense.

    So many will scream about an obvious false start on Chargers left tackle Russell Okung. I still can't understand how the officials missed a 310-pounder standing up and jumping well before the ball was snapped -- but they did.

    Rivers threw a 29-yard TD pass to Tyrell Williams on that play.

    But the officials had no real impact on this game, given how the Browns played with so little passion or attention to details.

    The Browns' defense was nearly helpless against the run, the Chargers rushing for 246 yards -- 6.8 per carry.

    Rivers seemed obsessed with beating the Browns. He still remembers the 2016 Christmas Eve loss to Cleveland on this same field. All week, Rivers told the media and his teammates how the Browns were a good, talented team.

    Then he destroyed the Browns' defense, which never could figure out how to stop the run or pass.

    WELCOME TO REALITY

    The Browns lost middle linebacker Joe Schobert to a hamstring injury. A Pro Bowler and defensive unit captain, Schobert had played every snap since the opening day of 2017 -- until he left the game in the third quarter.

    The Browns keep losing receivers to injuries. By the end of the game, the only healthy ones were Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway and Damion Ratley.

    Mayfield kept throwing the ball to Landry and Callaway. He couldn't connect. They were targeted 19 times and combined to catch four passes for a grand total of 20 yards.

    It's a safe guess that newly signed receiver Breshad Perriman will be in uniform next week.

    While the media dwelled on the thin group of receivers, the defense was a disaster. That had nothing to do with injuries.

    In the meantime, the Browns better study video of what the Chargers did to confuse Mayfield. And the tape will show some horrible tackling on defense, along with huge holes for running backs to exploit.

    "It's disappointing," Jackson said.

    If coaches consider games like this to be teaching moments, then a lot of players need to stay after school for more work.


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    Joe Thomas called this a turnaround season before the game. Sunday let everyone know the turnaround is still a work in progress.

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Before Sunday's game, former Browns left tackle Joe Thomas declared this the turnaround season for the Browns.

    "I feel like the turnaround has happened this year," Thomas said.

    And he wasn't necessarily wrong. The Browns entered the game 2-2-1. It's just that Sunday should remind all of us that the gears of the turnaround are still grinding and the Browns aren't quite there yet. The Chargers made FirstEnergy Stadium a mere pitstop on their way to London next week with a 38-14 victory.

    The Chargers are a good team. Their only losses this season are to two teams who entered Week 6 undefeated, the Chiefs and Rams. They are built to exploit many of the Browns' weaknesses defensively.

    The Browns' mistakes finally caught up with them, too. Special-teams flags early and dropped footballs by an ever-thinning receiving corps that got thinner when Rod Streater went down covering the Browns' first punt were killer.

    The defense got unlucky on an obvious false start that preceded a touchdown pass from Philip Rivers to Tyrell Williams that put the Browns behind, 21-3, with 51 seconds left in the half.

    They also couldn't stop Melvin Gordon. Or Philip Rivers. Or anyone for that matter. Damarious Randall was unable to haul in an interception on the previous touchdown pass to Williams.

    These are things the Browns have been able to overcome in past weeks to either win or make games interesting. Not Sunday. Not against this team, a team that, when all is said and done, might have something to say in the AFC title hunt. The Browns are just trying to make it to an "In the hunt" graphic in December.

    The momentum hit a brick wall Sunday afternoon. This might be the turnaround season. Things rarely just turnaround overnight.


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    Last week's overtime win against Baltimore raised expectations for the Browns, but the same team that won last week lost to the Chargers this week.

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The pass to Baltimore's Michael Crabtree a week ago hit him in the hands in the end zone, and if he had grabbed it, you would have thought of the Browns differently this week.

    Maybe a catch there would have prepared you more for Sunday's 38-14 stomping at the hands of the Los Angeles Chargers.

    Nothing about the first 59:03 of regulation a week ago would have changed. But a go-ahead Crabtree touchdown in the final minute, instead of the game-tying field goal the Ravens made before falling to the Browns in overtime, would have changed your view on the Browns.

    Because this isn't a winning team yet. It's a competing team. And that's not the same thing.

    There's nothing wrong with being a team that competes, but the Browns were NFL bystanders for two seasons, so the perception was thrown off. In 2016 and 2017, for the 31 other teams, each week meant competing. Each week meant a chance to win.

    The Browns, you assumed, would lose. And 31 out of 32 times you were right.

    So to beat an above-average Ravens team in overtime, two weeks after beating a below-average Jets team by 4, led some to the conclusion that the Browns had learned how to win.

    They hadn't.

    They just reached the level - with a real quarterback and some playmakers on defense - where they had gained the ability to compete. And sometimes, when you compete every week, you do win.

    So the Browns entered Sunday at 2-2-1, but not with a team that could really imagine taking it to an opponent. With three overtime games, a 3-point loss and a 4-point win, the Browns had legitimately been in it for 328 minutes and 12 seconds of NFL action this season. 

    That was real.

    But so was getting dominated by what might be the second-best team in the AFC.

    The Chargers arrived in Cleveland at 3-2, with losses to Kansas City and the L.A. Rams, the only 5-0 teams. With 15-year QB Philip Rivers sniffing his best shot at a Super Bowl in a decade, and a defense that could get after you even with former Buckeye Joey Bosa out with an injury, the Chargers are a far better team.

    They were before they got to Cleveland, and they were for three hours Sunday.

    Two touchdown catches in traffic by Tyrell Williams served as stark reminders of what the Browns receiving corps - depleted by injuries and the trades of Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman - don't have. Baker Mayfield put up two balls in the end zone, and Antonio Callaway and Damion Ratley made feeble efforts - Ratley especially - that showed how far they have to go in actually playing the position.

    The Browns have holes there, obviously.

    The best teams don't have holes like that.

    There's no more than 10 teams in the NFL that could do to the Browns what the Chargers did Sunday. That's progress. But that doesn't mean the Browns are better than the other 21. It means they have a chance, something like a 50-50 chance, against those other 21.

    So in a 16-game schedule, if there's one-third of the league that will beat you, and two-thirds of league you can play with, that's something like a 5-11 or 6-10 record. There are five or six you lose. And there are 10 or 11 that are a coin flip.

    That's where the Browns are, roughly. And you should know that. But maybe Crabtree dropping that touchdown made you forget.

    Nothing, really, changed this week. The same Browns that barely beat Baltimore lost soundly to San Diego.

    Baker Mayfield didn't seem himself after a hit, and he seemed to limp his way through much of the game, and that didn't help. He played his worst game as a pro. 

    A bad miss by the officials on a Chargers false start on a touchdown didn't help. 

    The drops didn't help - but the drops have been there all season, and you must build those into your thoughts about this team. 

    And then there's the coaching, which hovers over everything. Which team had the better plan of attack Sunday? Was it even close? Is the coaching ever going to steal an extra win or two for the Browns, to turn those five or six wins into seven or eight wins?

    The next four games for the Browns are Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Atlanta. They should compete in three of those four. There's a win in there, maybe two.

    But there was never a win out there Sunday, no matter what happened against Baltimore. 

    Enjoy a team that gave you true excitement, real hope, two wins and one tie in the first five weeks. Don't bail on a team that got swatted Sunday. But understand what they have become, and what they're still chasing, so you don't drive yourself crazy with unrealistic expectations.

    Most weeks the Browns will compete, and sometimes win and sometimes lose.

    Some weeks, like this one, they're just going to lose.


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    The Browns suffered a thorough 38-14 beatdown at the hands of the Los Angeles Chargers at FirstEnergy Stadium.

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- There was no Baker Mayfield magic on the lakefront Sunday against the Chargers. In fact, there was no magic by the defense or the special teams, either.

    The Browns suffered a thorough beatdown in all three phases of the game by the Los Angeles Chargers, who won 38-14 to drop the Browns to 2-3-1. The Chargers, who came in with losses only to the 5-0 Chiefs and Rams, improved to 4-2.

    Browns coach Hue Jackson was asked after the game if his team had started to think too much of itself after some of the favorable national attention it has received lately.

    "I hope not. I don't want to say that we did," Jackson said. "I just don't think we came out and played the way we did in the first five games. We've got some work to do."

    Mayfield, who came up limping in the first quarter on a scramble and wasn't himself the rest of the game, was picked off twice by Desmond King and was ineffective all game.

    It didn't help that Mayfield had very few receivers heading in and that he lost another one in the first quarter when Rod Streater went down with a stinger.

    Mayfield (22-of-46, 238 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 52.6 rating) was plagued by dropped passes -- including three in the end zone -- by most of his receivers. He could not rally the troops like he did in his first appearance at FirstEnergy Stadium again the Jets on Sept. 20.

    This time, he got no help from the defense, whose weaknesses were exposed by Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and the high-powered Chargers offense.

    "Baker's going to bounce back and play good next week," Jackson said. "We're going to play good next week."

    "We did not execute. We did not do our job. We were not detailed," Mayfield said. "We did not do the things that we talked about all week. That is the most disappointing thing. Anytime you do not do your job... I am at fault for majority of that. I am going to be very hard on myself.

    ". . . We have to be more prepared coming into the next week. It does not matter what happened. It does not matter the buzz. You have to do your job each week or else. That is just the nature of this game. It is so competitive in this league that if you do not do your job, that is what can happen.

    "I will be the first to tell you that I am going to go to work and get this fixed."

    Rivers, who came into the game No. 3 in the NFL with a 116.4 rating, completed 11-of-20 attempts for 207 yards. He passed for 207 yards with two TDs and one interception for a 103.5 rating. Rivers, who was relieved by Geno Smith in the fourth quarter, engineered a TD on his first possession and the Chargers never looked back.

    Chargers running back Melvin Gordon rushed 18 times for 132 yards and three touchdowns, and the Chargers rolled up 449 yards on the Browns defense.

    With the Browns painfully thin at receiver and relying on rookies, the Chargers took Jarvis Landry out of the game. He caught only 2 of 9 targets for 11 yards.

    "He's the best receiver in the league in my opinion," Mayfield said. ". . . I have to find ways to get him the ball more.

    "They played a lot of zone coverage. Their change-up was throwing in man. They did a good job of passing off receivers. . . . It doesn't matter what they're doing. I have to do my job."

    One bright spot for the Browns was running back Duke Johnson, who caught four passes for 73 yards and ran twice for 36 yards.

    Mayfield came up limping on his left foot after a 6-yard scramble in the first quarter when he ran out of bounds in front of the Chargers bench and slipped on the plastic yard marker, which was laying on the ground out of bounds.

    He converted a fourth and 1 with a 2-yard sneak on the next play, but limped the rest of the game.

    He came up limping again after a sack in the second quarter, and wasn't as mobile as he usually is.

    The Browns' offense, defense and special teams all had a hand in this debacle. 

    Mayfield's first pick

    Mayfield, on the first play of a drive at his 28, was picked off by King with 11:54 in the third quarter when King jumped Jarvis Landry's route and returned it 33 yards to the Browns' 10. Melvin Gordon ran it in on the next play to make it 28-6 Chargers with 11:54 left.       

    Joe Schobert lost to a hamstring injury

    On a day when the defense was exposed by a great offensive team, starting middle linebacker Joe Schobert was lost for the game in the third quarter with a pulled hamstring, and it looks like it could be serious. Schobert grabbed the back of his leg as he was running on the play when he was injured.

    In the fourth quarter, the Browns also lost linebacker James Burgess to a hamstring injury.

    The Missed False Start

    Rivers threw a 29-yard TD pass to receiver Tyrell Williams with 53 seconds left in the half to make it 21-3, but the referees missed a false start by left tackle Russell Okung that was obvious to everyone else in FirstEnergy Stadium.

    Rivers' 45-yard TD pass

    Rivers was backed up to his 11 in the second quarter, but he burned the Browns on back-to-back plays, a 44-yard pass to Williams and then a 45-yard TD pass to Williams that made it 14-3 with 6:34 left in the second.     
     
    Antonio Callaway and Damion Ratley drop passes in end zone

    Callaway dropped a pass in the end zone in the first quarter, and fellow rookie Ratley dropped one in the second quarter off a flea-flicker. The Browns headed into the game in dire straits at receiver and it went from bad to abysmal when Streater was lost to the stinger.

    Callaway failed to secure another pass in the end zone when he was double-covered, and the Browns had to settle for a field goal.

    Browns fail on fourth and 2

    The Browns had a chance to trim their 14-3 deficit in the second quarter, but they went for it on fourth and 2 from the Chargers' 23 and failed. Mayfield overthrew a wide open Landry at about the 12, and it was almost as if he didn't see him. The Chargers went on to increase their lead to 21-3 on that 29-yard TD pass to Williams.

    Waste of great field position

    Twice the Browns wasted great field position in the first half.  Once they started at the Chargers' 33 and settled for a field goal. Next time up, they started at 39 after a 33-yard punt return by Jabrill Peppers and went three-and-out after Mayfield was sacked on third down.  

    Next

    The Browns travel to Tampa to play the Bucs, Oct. 21 at 1 p.m.


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    Ohio State moved to No. 2 in the AP poll on Sunday.

    COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After a week in which four top 10 teams lost, Ohio State is now No. 2 in the latest AP college football poll, released on Sunday.

    Georgia, West Virginia, Washington and Penn State all lost. With those teams losing, Michigan made a leap up in the poll as well, jumping to No. 6. 

    Alabama stayed at No. 1, followed by OSU, Clemson, Notre Dame and LSU. Ohio State was the only team besides Alabama to get a first-place vote.

    Here is the latest AP top 25. Check out Doug Lesmerises' ballot.

    1. Alabama (60)

    2. Ohio State (1)

    3. Clemson

    4. Notre Dame

    5. LSU

    6. Michigan

    7. Texas

    8. Georgia

    9. Oklahoma

    10. UCF

    11. Florida

    12. Oregon

    13. West Virginia

    14. Kentucky

    15. Washington

    16. North Carolina State

    17. Texas A&M

    18. Penn State

    19. Iowa

    20. Cincinnati

    21. South Florida

    22. Mississippi State

    23. Wisconsin

    24. Michigan State

    25. Washington State


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    Mary Kay Cabot, Dan Labbe and Doug Lesmerises discuss what's next in this episode of the Orange and Brown Talk podcast, sponsored by Sibling Revelry Brewing.

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Browns are 2-3-1 after they couldn't measure up Sunday against one of the best teams in the league and absorbed a 38-14 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers at FirstEnergy Stadium.

    sibling-revelry-logo-2.png

    In this postgame edition of the Orange and Brown Talk podcast, presented by Sibling Revelry Brewing, Dan Labbe talks to Mary Kay Cabot about:

    • The Browns struggles at wide receiver;
    • The performance of the defense;
    • How this game could tell us a lot about the character of this team.

    Want our podcasts delivered directly to your phone? We have an Apple podcasts channel exclusively for this podcast. Subscribe to it here. You can also subscribe on Google Play and listen Spotify. Search Orange and Brown Talk podcast or click here.

    You can also use our podcast's RSS feed in your podcast player of choice.


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    Chargers wide receiver Tyrell Williams caught three passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns.

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Many of the same fans ready to stitch Baker Mayfield's Hall of Fame jacket five games into his NFL career may have second thoughts after Sunday's blowout loss to the Los Angles Chargers.

    Mayfield passed for 238 yards, one touchdown and was sacked five times. He also threw two interceptions -- each to Chargers corner Desmond King.

    Despite Mayfield's play, King was impressed with his ability during the Chargers' preparation.

    "He's a great quarterback," King said. "He can run the ball and throw the ball. He makes a lot of plays with his feet. That's what I like about him. He has a long road. They threw him into the fire and he's going to learn."

    King, a fifth-round selection by the Chargers last year, said learning for Mayfield, just like any rookie, starts with film -- especially film splattered with mistakes.

    "I had my time last year as a rookie," King said. "When I wasn't doing well I'd look back at film to see what I could do better. This game will give Baker a chance to have a bounce-back game and get ready for next weekend. He'll be fine.''

    Mayfield, however, wasn't fine when King picked him off for the second time, in Browns territory, late in the third quarter. King's 33-yard return put the ball on the Cleveland 10. One play later the Chargers scored and led, 28-6.

    King said his play and the Chargers' scheme, and not necessarily Mayfield's mistakes, led to the interceptions.

    "I was just doing my job," King said. "That's the thing with our defense: Do your job, be in the right place and good things happen."

    Unfortunately for fans in the Buckeye state, King has a history of playing well against Ohio teams. At Iowa, he had two big interceptions that helped stop Ohio State in 2017.

    In comparison, King had extra motivation on Sunday.

    "My mom was in the stands this time," King said. "She's my good luck charm whenever she's around. It's always a magical day whenever she's around."

    On the offensive side, the Chargers were led by wide receiver Tyrell Williams. He caught three passes for 118 yards and a career-high two touchdowns.

    In the second quarter, Williams caught a 44-yard pass, then added a 45-yard touchdown in triple coverage on the very next play. He took the ball from at least two defenders before he landed.

    Williams also scored on a 29-yard score when he just got past rookie corner Denzel Ward.

    This is all from a guy who was undrafted and spent time on the practice squad.

    "I've always had the confidence that I could make those plays, it was just a matter of getting the opportunity," said Williams, in his third year out of Western Oregon. "I've been waiting a long time to get a two-touchdown game."


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    The Browns have injuries at receiver, but they're still ignoring some players who could help them.

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Browns ran a trick play Sunday, a flea flicker that Carlos Hyde flipped back to Baker Mayfield, and then the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft sent a 33-yard pass toward the end zone.

    At the goal line, undrafted rookie receiver Damion Ratley went up for the catchable ball like he'd never tried to catch a pass in a real NFL game before.

    He hadn't.

    Yes, the first target of Ratley's professional life was a trick-play potential touchdown for a team that entered Sunday with playoff aspirations. It didn't work. Nothing the Browns did Sunday worked in a 38-14 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

    A depleted offense, missing injured receivers Rashard Higgins and Derek Willies, didn't utilize the best players that were available. If you wondered where the Browns skill was in Week 6, Duke Johnson (five targets, two rushes) and Nick Chubb (three rushes) were standing on the sideline with their hands raised.

    Here we are.

    The Browns missed Higgins, Willies, the one-time game-changing talent of Josh Gordon (traded for unreliability) and one-time possible potential of Corey Coleman (traded for not being good at football) terribly on Sunday.

    But the answer to all that didn't have to be eight targets for Ratley and 10 targets for fourth-round rookie Antonio Callaway, who has stunningly turned into a go-to player a year after not playing football at the University of Florida.

    "I've got to adapt," Callaway said Sunday. "It's the NFL, so whether I played last year or didn't play last year, I've got to be ready."

    Ratley actually wound up making some plays Sunday, catching six of his eight targets for 82 yards. Callaway, an understandably enigmatic hit-or-miss talent at this point in his career, caught just two of those 10 targets for 9 yards.

    The Browns were throwing to some guys who can't do it yet. But, critically, the Browns are also ignoring some guys who maybe can do it.

    Johnson's lack of action was a major topic this week, with Johnson expressing some frustration at his lack of usage, and Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley expressing an interest in getting him more involved.

    This wasn't much of a jump.

    Johnson ran it twice for 36 yards and was targeted five times in the pass game, catching four passes for 73 yards.

    So the Browns tried Johnson seven times and gained 109 yards on those plays, average of 15.6 yards.

    In their other 65 plays, they gained 208 yards, an average of 3.2 yards.

    It's obviously not actually that simple or that stark. But Johnson had a combination of 41 targets and rushes through five games, an average of eight per game. To talk all week about doing more with Johnson, then to try him seven times, is a failure.

    "I thought it was better," Jackson said of involving Johnson. "Duke is a good football player. I have said it all along that he is. He will continue to make plays. That part was good. Have to continue to build on it."

    To be clear, Johnson is ready yesterday to be used as a receiver. He wasn't used that way Sunday, on a day when four receivers were active and one of them, Rod Streater, went down with an injury on the day's first punt and didn't return.

    The Chargers scored two touchdowns because Tyrell Williams hauled down contested throws in traffic, and the Browns missed their two early shots trying rookies who aren't ready while Johnson watched.

    The Browns did put out a stat after the game that showed Johnson fifth in Browns history for most catches through five years of his career, with 202.

    By season, that is: 61 catches, 53 catches, 74 catches ... and a pace this season for 37 catches.

    Meanwhile, the Browns keep force-feeding Callaway, who still can't quite believe the role he's been forced into as a fourth-round flier from the 2018 NFL Draft.

    Ever think you'd be counted on like this when you were drafted?

    "Ahh, no," Callaway said.

    So what do you do?

    "Just do my job and don't try to do too much," he said.

    Targeted five times in the first two weeks, Callaway has been targeted 35 times in the last four weeks.

    On the season, here are the Browns' leaders in targets in the pass game and their number of catches:

    * Jarvis Landry 65 -- 31 catches

    * David Njoku 46 -- 27 catches

    * Callaway 40 -- 15 catches

    * Johnson 22 -- 14 catches

    * Rashard Higgins 22 -- 16 catches

    * Carlos Hyde 10 -- 6 catches


    Callaway has been used more often down the field, so his catch rate will be lower. Still, that's a lot of action in the last four weeks and a lot of missed connections.

    One of those came in the end zone in the first quarter Sunday, when Callaway tracked a 40-yard deep ball from Mayfield but wound up running next to it and missing it as he reached out.

    "I probably should have left my feet," Callaway said. "If I had left my feet and dove I would have caught it."

    There were should-haves all over the field for the Browns. But don't look at the problems. Look at the Browns ignoring the solutions.

    Rookie running back Nick Chubb is another player the Browns have talked about using more and haven't. Carlos Hyde entered the game second in the league in carries with 100 -- and 39th in yards per carry at 3.5. Chubb entered with 13 carries for 148 yards -- 11.4 yards per carry.

    Hyde carried 14 times for 34 yards Sunday --  2.4 average.

    Chubb carried three times for 25 yards -- 8.3 average.

    That doesn't mean Chubb should be the lead back. This doesn't mean Johnson should be the leading receiver.

    This means that for an offense that is strapped, the coaches must do more problem-solving. Johnson and Chubb can help. Use them. Find a way. There's no other option.

    "I do not have any excuses. That is the National Football League," Jackson said of being forced to play young receivers. "Next guy is up. We just have to take what we have, keep coaching and get better."

    Fine. Next guy up. Just make sure the right guys are in line.

    Landry, targeted nine times for two catches for 11 yards, needs more chances, regardless of what a defense is doing.

    "We just have to find a way. Have to find a way," Jackson said. "Obviously, that is not good enough."

    "He is the best receiver in the league in my opinion," Mayfield said. "I have to put the ball in better range for him."

    The Browns also have to get their other playmakers in range.

    The offense is in trouble with some skill players, and that's not the fault of the coaches.

    But if they don't use the right players to solve those problems, that is on them.


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    "I will be the first to tell you that I am going to go to work and get this fixed," Mayfield said. Watch video

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield didn't use his ankle injury as an excuse, or the half-dozen dropped passes by his patchwork receiving corps. He never alluded to the defense choking in a huge game at home. Instead, he shouldered most of the blame for Sunday's 38-14 loss to the Chargers.

    "We didn't execute,'' said Mayfield, who was picked off twice by cornerback Desmond King, including one on the first play of the second half.  "We weren't detailed. Anytime you don't do your job, I'm at fault for the majority of that. I'm going to be very hard on myself.''

    Mayfield (22-of-46, 238 yards, 5 sacks, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 52.6 rating) had two of his passes dropped in the end zone by rookie receivers: one by Antonio Callaway on his second drive with the Chargers up 7-0; and one by Damion Ratley off a flea flicker in the second quarter. The Browns settled for a field goal on the latter that made it 7-3 with 12:47 left in the half.

    "Those are young guys,'' said Mayfield. "We each have to play the next play. During the game, that's what you tell them. We have to have those.''

    Coach Hue Jackson was in no mood to use youth as an excuse for the two rookies.

    "Have to get better. Have to make those plays,'' he said. "We expect them to make those plays. They can. They had chances to make them. I know they were close, but we'll see if they really truly had chances to make those catches."

    Mayfield, who injured his ankle injury on a 6-yard scramble in the first quarter, headed in challenged at receiver, and it got worse when Rod Streater went down with a stinger on punt coverage after the Browns' first drive. That left three able-bodied receivers in Callaway, Ratley and Jarvis Landry. Before Sunday, Ratley had played one snap at receiver and had been inactive for three of the previous five games.

    The Browns signed former Ravens first-round pick Breshad Perriman on Saturday, but as Jackson observed, he didn't "know even one play'' so couldn't dress for the game.

    By the time it was over, the receivers had dropped at least five passes, but as many as seven depending on who's counting. Two of those were by Landry, who caught only two of his nine targets for 11 yards, including a third and 8 in the third quarter that he tried to one-hand.

    "He's the best receiver in the league in my opinion,'' said Mayfield. "I have to put the ball in better range for him. The interception, I left it behind. The DB made a great play. He's in a trail technique. Jarvis beat him cross-face. I have to give him a chance to catch that ball.

    "The others, I have to be more accurate. That was one of my strong suits, and today, it wasn't. I will get my stuff fixed. None of that is on Jarvis. He's doing his job. I have to find ways get him the ball more."

    Landry bolted right after the game and didn't stick around to answer questions. It was a frustrating day for him and everyone else on the team. With the Browns so thin at receiver with Rashard Higgins (sprained MCL) and Derrick Willies (broken collarbone) down, teams are double-teaming Landry and taking him out of the game.

    On that first interception, from the Browns' 28, Mayfield threw high and King jumped Landry's route and swiped it. Melvin Gordon ran in from 10 yards to make it 28-6 left in the third.  

    "We just have to find a way,'' said Jackson. "Obviously, that's not good enough. We have to find ways that he can catch it and the rest of our guys. We have to catch them. We have to give them a chance to get open."

    Neither Mayfield nor Jackson used Mayfield's ankle injury as an excuse. He slipped on the first down marker on the Chargers' sideline running out of bounds after the 6-yard scramble, and came up limping. He trotted back to the field and gained 2 yards on a sneak to convert the fourth and 1, but was slowed by the ankle.  Sacked three more times on that drive, including one that was nullified by a penalty, he came up limping several other times, including after his fourth sack of the first half in the second quarter.

    "I'm good,'' he said. "I was able to finish out the rest of the game."

    Mayfield, who slipped to 1-2 as a starter, was in some obvious pain and not as mobile as usual. At times, he didn't seem like himself, including on a fourth and 2 from his 23 in the second quarter when he fired a ball far over the head of an open Landry at the Chargers' 12. Normally pinpoint accurate, he seemed distracted and off at times.

    "I don't think it impacted him to where he couldn't play,'' said Jackson. "Obviously, it's an ankle. He fought through it and played. I'm sure there are some balls that he would like to have back. It's not just Baker, it's the whole unit - we did not play very well."

    Mayfield, who said he doesn't expect the ankle injury to linger, aimed to cut down on his sacks and lamented that he took five for the second straight week.

    "Obviously, that wasn't very good on my part,'' he said. "Have to get the ball out. I have to make it easier on our guys. We have to take care of the ball - we as in I do. I have to put us in position to win. Coming out in the second half, we were not out of the game. Defense gets a good stop and then first play, I throw a pick. Can't do it. Can't happen. I will be the first to correct my stuff."

    Chargers coach Anthony Lynn took full advantage of the fact Mayfield couldn't run and escape pressure like he normally does.

    "We were disciplined in our rush lanes - trying to eliminate his opportunities to escape out of the pocket,'' he said. "When he leaves the pocket, he's pretty dangerous. I thought we did a heck of a job of that today - containing him in the pocket and getting the sacks. Even when he got out of the pocket, we ran with the receivers and we gave them tight coverage. He had to throw a lot of balls away."

    True, the Chargers had tight coverage, but there were still far too many drops.

    Mayfield, who threw another pick in the fourth quarter two plays after Christian Kirksey intercepted Philip Rivers, admitted the last time he felt this bad was when "against Nick Chubb in the 2018 Rose Bowl" against Georgia that prevented Oklahoma from playing for the national championship.

    He lamented that he didn't adjust well to their "change-up of throwing in man and blitzing. It doesn't matter what they are doing. I have to do my job."

    He added "you're not always going to have a perfect day. You're not always going to have the day that you envision. You have to be a great in-game adjuster at this level. To whatever they are throwing at us, we have to react to it and play well. I will be the first to tell you, I did not do that today."

    He vowed to come back strong against the Bucs next week.

    "It doesn't matter what happened (the week before),'' he said. "It doesn't matter the buzz. You have to do your job each week or else. I'll be the first to tell you that I'm going to go to work and get this fixed."

    Despite the lack of skill players around him, Jackson is confident that Mayfield will rebound.

    "We're going to bounce back,'' he said. "I'm  not worried about Baker that way. Baker is going to bounce back and play well next week. We are going to play well next week."


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    The Chargers rolled over the Browns defense with ease on Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium Watch video

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Browns defense wants to be a dominant unit, the type that opposing offenses fear. There were signs they were moving in the right direction before Sunday's loss to the Chargers.

    They led the league in turnovers coming into Week 6.

    Only the Ravens held the Steelers to fewer points than the 21 the Browns allowed in their opening week tie. The Saints have scored fewer than 33 points once this season -- against the Browns. Last week, they slowed a Baltimore attack in a 12-9 overtime grinder.

    The only hiccup to this point came against the Raiders in Week 4, but that didn't look nearly as easy as Philip Rivers and the Chargers made it look on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium. The 449 yards allowed is the second-highest total of the season and the biggest number in a game that didn't go to overtime.

    The Browns gave up 246 yards on the ground, the most they have given up all season. They forced just a single turnover, the first time this season they haven't forced multiple turnovers in a game.

    "They punched us in the mouth early, up on the opening drive and they were just doing some things that obviously we couldn't stop," safety Damarious Randall said.

    The Chargers used five plays to go 57 yards on their first possession after forcing a Browns punt. The series included a 16-yard run by Melvin Gordon, a 16-yard run by Keenan Allen and 17-yard pass from Rivers to Allen.

    "They were hitting us with certain plays that we were prepared for," Larry Ogunjobi said, "but the way they were running it, the fly sweeps, in-and-outs, all those kinds of things, they were getting on our edge and it made it hard for us to make the tackles that we needed to make."

    There were warning signs the Chargers would be able to do damage on the ground. They brought two versatile weapons to Cleveland in Gordon and Austin Ekeler. The two combined for 192 yards on the ground on Sunday and Gordon's two catches averaged nine per catch. The dirty little secret behind the Browns defense is they have been hurt by running backs all season, starting with James Connor in Week 1 against Pittsburgh and continuing with a big first half from Alvin Kamara in Week 2 and a huge game from Marshawn Lynch in Week 4.

    "On the edges, they were able to exploit it," head coach Hue Jackson said. "We had no force set. That team ran the ball for a lot of yards."

    "They used some of our strengths against us," Ogunjobi said. "It's one of those things where you've got to adapt throughout the game and, as the game gets going, find ways to tweak the game to counteract what they're doing."

    Asked what he meant by using some of their strengths against them, Ogunjobi expanded:

    "We're guys who like to get up the field, knock back the line of scrimmage," he said, "but for teams that are more positional blocking, they don't care about that. They take your momentum and use it against you."

    All told, the Chargers ended up with four players who rushed for more than 40 yards on Sunday. The lowest yards per carry average among those four belonged to Gordon at 7.3. He made up for that by scoring three times.

    Philip Rivers only completed 11 passes, but you would be forgiven if it felt like at least double that. His arm accounted for the three longest Chargers plays on the day, a 45-yard completion to Tyrell Williams for a touchdown, a 44-yard completion to Williams and a 29-yard completion to Williams for a touchdown.

    If you're grasping at straws to feel good about something, two of those plays came with a caveat. The last one shouldn't have counted because the left tackle practically went in motion presnap. The first one was a simultaneous possession call, which goes the way of the receiver. Williams snagged the ball away from Randall in the endzone.

    "I had the ball in my hands," Randall said. "When we fell, it just so happened to be he was the one right there, because he never had the ball until the ref got over there. This is an offensive league and anything close, they're giving it to the offensive guy. It is what it is."

    All of that is just window dressing on an ugly performance.

    "There's no need to harp on that one play," Randall said. "That one play didn't make or break the game."

    Nor did the missed false start. The play prior to that non-call was a 44-yard throw to Williams, a perfectly-placed football that flipped field position, something the Browns coveted early, and it helped open the flood gates. A 7-3 game became 14-3 and, when the Browns failed to convert on fourth down on their ensuing drive, the Chargers scored again and the rout was on.

    "The plays were there to be made," Randall said. "At the end of the day, we've got to make them. It's the National Football League. The other team gets paid to make plays as well. They made more plays than we did today and that's basically why they kicked our ass today."

    It's why the defense went from borderline dominant to dominated on Sunday.


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