BEREA – Some coaches need the perfect scenario to take a risk.
Not Rob Chudzinski. He just needs an opportunity.
Chudzinski’s a gambling man by nature and it was on display repeatedly Sunday during the 31-27 win in Minnesota. Bad field position, clock concerns, leading, trailing, it didn’t matter. Cleveland’s rookie coach was ready to roll the dice.
“That’s always our mindset and that’s just the way I’ve always been,” Chudzinski said Monday.
He doesn’t consider the fake punt, fake field goal, fourth-down tries and frequent blitzing gambling. It’s all about staying on the offensive – even if you’re on defense.
“I think from Day 1, when I talked to you about what our philosophy is going to be, we’re going to attack and we’re going to be aggressive,” he said. “Sometimes it’s going to work, sometimes it’s not going to work. But that’s how we’re going to play.”
With the offense stuck in the mud in the opening two losses – a combined 16 points – the chances to attack were scarce. The Browns were just trying to survive. But with a bit of momentum generated Sunday, Chudzinski and his staff let it rip.
On fourth-and-1 from its 38, Cleveland called for a fake punt. Upback Josh Aubrey took the direct snap 34 yards down the middle to set up a field goal.
Following a T.J. Ward interception off a Craig Robertson deflection, the Browns were on the move again. Chudzinski didn’t want to settle for a field goal, and on fourth-and-4 from the 11 called for a fake. The Vikings were sleeping, didn’t see tight end Jordan Cameron hanging out near the sideline and holder/punter Spencer Lanning got it to him for a touchdown.
“Coach Chud said from the beginning that we were going to be an aggressive, attacking-style team and I think you saw that (Sunday),” Cameron said. “In all phases we were kind of going after it and it worked out.”
If it weren’t for the 7-yard winner from quarterback Brian Hoyer to Cameron with 51 seconds left, the Lanning-to-Cameron connection would’ve been the signature play in the first win of the season and Chudzinski’s career. It remained a popular topic Monday in the locker room.
Cameron said it was agony waiting for the snap because the Vikings could’ve noticed him at any moment.
“It’s the worst. Then he throws it and it felt like the ball was in the air for like 30 seconds and I was waiting and waiting and then you gotta catch it, and then I almost got tackled at the 1, which would have been embarrassing,” Cameron said. “But we made it happen.”
Lanning bounced around NFL camps for a couple of years but had never kicked in a regular-season game until the opener. On Sunday he became the first player in the NFL with a punt, extra point (he made the final critical one for a four-point lead with Billy Cundiff sidelined with a quadriceps injury) and touchdown pass in the same game since Philadelphia’s Sam Baker in 1968.
“Maybe he was a Punt-Pass-Kick champ when he was a kid or something,” Chudzinski said with a laugh.
“I was never in any competitions,” Lanning said. “The most training I’ve had throwing a ball is with my dad out in the yard.
“I wasn’t very excited about how it came out, it had a little duck-tail to it. I’ve (had) some guys around the league texting me saying I threw it like a girl. No offense to all the women out there. As soon as I threw it, it did seem like the ball hung up. I didn’t want to be the guy who threw it in the stands.”
Hoyer has played infinitely more quarterback than Lanning, but entered his second career start with 96 pass attempts. He threw 54 times Sunday, and coordinator Norv Turner told him to keep firing even after three interceptions in a 12-minute span.
The first pick provides insight into the coaches’ mindset.
The Browns led 24-17 when they got the ball at their 20-yard line with 1:08 left in the second quarter. They weren’t content to head into halftime with a hard-fought lead and Hoyer threw four straight times. The final try was intercepted, giving the Vikings the chance to tie. Only a Jabaal Sheard strip-sack prevented a Minnesota score.
“I’ve always been that way,” Chudzinski said. “You have to attack. I think it creates a mentality for your team.
“Those guys, they don’t flinch, they don’t blink. If we don’t make it, the defense goes right out there and stops the other team in three plays. I think guys like playing football that way because it’s an aggressive game, it’s an attacking game. That’s the mentality I’ve always been around.”
The risks aren’t always rewarded, but Chudzinski has vowed to keep taking them. One of the reasons CEO Joe Banner hired him was because he fit the personality he wants for the franchise.
Chudzinski went for it on fourth-and-4 at the Baltimore 39 in Week 2 trailing 7-6 to start the fourth quarter. Cameron was stopped an inch short of the first down. Against the Vikings up 24-17 with 7:24 left in the third quarter at the Minnesota 37, he went on fourth-and-4 and the pass was incomplete.
Chudzinski conceded there may be times to take the foot off the accelerator, but they’re rare.
“I have so much faith in our guys and belief in our guys,” he said. “I think that what encourages them to want to get better is when you have that faith and belief in them that any opportunity we have, whether it’s on offense or defense, we’re going to capitalize.”
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