Browns week 5 look back: Why Chargers went for it on fourth down

Cade York, Browns. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Cade York, Browns. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

Coach Brandon Staley will hear from critics for his decision to go for it on fourth down against the Browns ahead 30-28; however, it wasn’t crazy.

Chargers coach Brandon Staley was nursing a 30-28 lead against our Cleveland Browns with a minute and change left in the fourth quarter. He then inexplicably decided to go for a first down from the Chargers’ 46-yard line.

Watching this life at Beavercreek Browns Backers club, nobody believed this was real. “Staley’s trying to get the Browns to jump off-sides! Don’t fall for it, Browns!” was yelled at the TV. It was a complete shock when the ball was hiked and then pandemonium when the Browns shut down the play. What a gift!

What did we just see? All NFL fans are aware that Staley has radical ideas about going for it on fourth down. However, this seemed totally insane. No one could offer a logical explanation at the time, other than Staley had truly lost his mind.

But maybe not.

Here’s why it might not be totally insane. At the instant the Browns’ defense had succeeded in creating a fourth and two situation for the Chargers, the Browns had actually assumed control of the game. That’s what all the cheering was about.

With Cade York as the field goal kicker, Cleveland would just have to move the ball to mid-field and they could have had a shot to take the lead. That almost happened at the end of the game anyway. Trusting the Chargers’ defense is a bad plan if you are the head coach of the Chargers.

On the other hand, if Staley trusts his offense, he would elect to let them try to get a first down and they should come through about 80 percent of time from two yards out. That’s a high percentage bet. The Chargers could then try to run the clock out from there. It’s not foolproof —nothing ever is — but you probably want to bet on the Charger’s offense rather than their defense. Staley’s team ran all over the Browns, with 234 yards on 38 carries (7.0 yards per carry). For that matter, Justin Herbert was just fine on 22 for 34 for 228 yards. Why not bet on those numbers?

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Do you think he should have instead bet on the defense? Cleveland did to them almost exactly what the Chargers did on offense, with 213 yards on the ground (6.9 yards per carry), and 230 yards through the air on 21 of 34. Brissett’s numbers were almost exactly the same as Herbert’s.

Thus, the numbers say that neither defense could be depended on and both offenses were unstoppable. They had already scored 58 points in the game. Perhaps it would have been a mistake to give the ball to the opponent when every offensive play was averaging over six yards. Just don’t punt in that type of game.

Lucky for the Chargers, the Browns still came up short. York had a bad day, missing on a 45-yarder earlier as well as the potential 54-yard game-winner. Staley lucked out.

We can’t really be upset with the field goal kicker for not connecting on long-field goals. No one is 100 percent accurate. However, what was upsetting was watching Jacoby Brissett and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt just spectating after the bad interception, apparently moping about the bad play. Instead, they should have been planning for the next possession, since in all probability they were in fact going to get the ball back with a chance to win.

Shouldn’t they have had their I-Pads out looking at the adjustments that the Chargers were making, so that they could call the right plays to get some extra yards? The failure to prepare for one last drive was maddening.

Staley was in a bad situation, with a bad alternative and a worse alternative facing him at fourth and two yards to go. If he had elected to punt, L.A. might well have lost the game. It may be presumptuous to assume that the Chargers would have easily contained the Browns’ offense had the Chargers punted.

On this particular Sunday, the coach believed in his offense; believed in Cleveland’s offense, and believed in York, but had less confidence in his defense.