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Browns hopeful injured players will return

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The Sports Xchange

CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns are hopeful of getting at least three or possibly four key starters for their ailing defense back in time to face the Baltimore Ravens next Sunday while there is still a chance to salvage the season.

Cornerback Joe Haden (finger), defensive end Desmond Bryant (shoulder), linebacker Craig Robertson (ankle), linebacker Scott Solomon (ankle) and defensive back K’Waun Williams (concussion) were all on the sideline in San Diego on Sunday when the Browns lost to the Chargers, 30-27, on a 34-yard field goal by Josh Lambo on the final play.

The Chargers rolled out 438 yards of offense and scored on touchdown drives of 80, 81 and 74 yards. A week earlier the Oakland Raiders beat the Browns, 27-20, with touchdowns drives of 80, 70 and 80 yards on their way to 469 yards of offense.

Solomon has been out since the first series of the season opener. Bryant and Williams have each missed two games. The Browns are not good enough to lose two starting linebackers, a Pro Bowl cornerback (Haden) and a starting defensive end from the unit they expected to be a cornerstone of the team.

Head coach Mike Pettine on Monday said Solomon will take some team snaps this week. He is hopeful Haden can start practicing Wednesday.

“We’re 1-3,” Pettine said. “We own that. We’re going to do what we know best how to do – bunker in and get ready for Baltimore. We know we’re close, but there are things we have to do better. We’re not going to make wholesale changes.”

The announcement before kickoff that Haden would be inactive came as a surprise because Haden on Friday said he would play against the Chargers. However, Pettine said the decision to not play was made by Haden after going through pre-game warmups.

Baltimore is not the place the Browns want to go to solve their problems. They haven’t won in M&T Bank Stadium since 2007 when Phil Dawson kicked a game-winning field goal in overtime.

REPORT CARD VS. CHARGERS

–PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus. Quarterback Josh McCown passed for 356 yards and came through in the clutch with a touchdown pass and a two-point conversion pass to tie the game 27-27 with 2:09 to play. He fumbled once and lost the ball but threw 41 passes without an interception. He was successful without having wide receiver Brian Hartline most of the game. McCown distributed the ball to eight different players. The Browns lost tight end Jordan Cameron in free agency. His replacement, Gary Barnidge, caught six passes against the Chargers and now has 16 on the season.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus. The biggest positive the Browns took from their game from Sunday is the development of rookie running back Duke Johnson. Johnson caught nine passes for 85 yards and rushed for another 31 yards. Isaiah Crowell broke loose on a 32-yard run, his longest carry of the season, and caught three passes for 53 yards. Last week, head coach Mike Pettine said the Browns will not abandon their plan to be a run-oriented team. This game got them back on track.

–PASS DEFENSE: C-minus. The Browns were without starting cornerback Joe Haden and nickel back K’Waun Williams. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers exploited those injuries on his way to passing for 358 yards and three touchdowns. Part of the blame has to go to the pass rush. The Chargers were without three starters on the offensive line, but the Browns sacked Rivers only twice. The Browns have given up six touchdown drives of 70 yards or longer over the last six games.

–RUN DEFENSE: c. The Browns defended the run better than in the previous three weeks by holding the Chargers to 91 yards on the ground, but they still could not make a big stop when they needed one. Danny Whitehead was loose on a 19-yard run on the Chargers’ game-winning field-goal drive. The Browns did not miss as many tackles as they did last week, but still must find a way to eliminate big plays by the opponent.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus. The Browns were victims of some bad luck when an offside penalty on Tramon Williams negated a missed field goal by San Diego’s Josh Lambo – unlucky because the penalty had no bearing on the miss. Just as the run offense was encouraging, Justin Gilbert proved he can be a successful kick returner – if not a successful cornerback – with three returns for 110 yards. Speedy Travis Benjamin broke a 31-yard punt return and rookie kicker Travis Coons was perfect on four field-goal attempts.

–COACHING: B. It’s difficult to fault the coaches for the way the Browns played in San Diego. The offense and defense both improved from a week ago. It wasn’t a complete turnaround, but it was definitely progress. Josh McCown justified the faith the coaches have shown in him by engineering the game-tying drive in the final minutes. Now the task is to get the team to play hard two weeks in a row. That hasn’t happened yet this season.


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