Browns' defensive woes overshadow everything

Ad Pro Test Clip 223 - March 2017 (1:35)

Ad Pro Test Clip 223 - March 2017 (1:35)

SAN DIEGO -- In the long history of excruciating Cleveland Browns losses, Sunday’s last-play loss to the San Diego Chargers ranks somewhere.

The problem is knowing exactly where.

On a day when Josh McCown carried the offense with 356 yards and two touchdowns (for a rating of 119.1), the defense provided little resistance to Philip Rivers (358 and three touchdowns, rating 118.1) and did not come through when it mattered most.

The end result: More discussion of a last-play 30-27 loss, a fall to 1-3 with a trip to Baltimore and a home game against Denver ahead, and the growing feeling that the Browns are trying to hold things together a mere four weeks into the season.

“We’re going to do what we know best how to do: Bunker in and get ready for Baltimore,” coach Mike Pettine said.

It’s not like there are many options.

Cleveland's quarterback was stellar, and Gary Barnidge, Travis Benjamin, Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell had strong games. But their defense, a supposed team strength, gave up 432 yards. In consecutive games, the Browns quarterback has thrown for 341 and 356 yards, and the Browns lost both.

Rivers was without three starting offensive linemen and lost two of his top receivers during the game, but he was still able to guide the eight-play, 57-yard, game-winning drive.

Tramon Williams did give Josh Lambo a reprieve with his offside penalty on the first try at the game-winning kick. Lambo made the second kick, which allowed him to chortle a bit.

"I was kind of bummed out," Lambo said. "Then I saw the flag on the field. Sweet."

But focusing on that one play masks major defensive issues.

If the Browns are to do anything this season, starting Sunday in Baltimore, they must somehow, some way get their defense fixed. According to spotrac.com, the Browns have committed $62.3 million in salary cap money to the defensive side of the ball, the highest figure in the league.

That unit is giving up 25.5 points and 404.8 yards per game. It is being gashed in the passing game (seven touchdowns surrendered, no interceptions the past three games) and the running game (ranked 32nd and last heading into San Diego).

Given the late penalty, it might not have been the best game in the world for Williams to speak openly, but he was asked about the Browns defense. He said the Chargers had “too many guys running free,” that there were “too many breakdowns in coverages.” He added that Rivers deciphered a lot of what the Browns were doing, something linebacker Paul Kruger also admitted.

He said there was more variety to the defensive calls when he played in Green Bay and added it might be time for the players to speak up.

“As players, we’re the ones out there playing,” he said. “Whether we have to speak up a little bit more and say what we feel we need to do, whether we feel we need more variety of things or different things, just have to step up and say it. Once you look up, the season’s going to be over.”

With the recent history of struggles, a stretch of early losses always weighs more heavily on the Browns. Going back to last season, they have lost eight of nine, and the formula they wanted to rely on this season seems in danger of implosion. The defense is not defending, and the team that wanted to run the ball to win got in an aerial game — with Rivers on the other side of the line.

In the end, Williams’ penalty might not be an all-timer.

It might be overshadowed by all the other issues the Browns seem to be fighting.