This week, the Cleveland Browns take on the San Diego Chargers in Week 16 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.
- Philip Rivers is in his 13th year in the league, and he's started every game since the 2006 season. Think about the number of quarterbacks the Browns have had this season alone. It's not like Rivers doesn't get hit, which is why durability is a critical but nearly impossible trait to scout when it comes to a quarterback.
- Some say that Rivers has regressed. The touchdowns (29) are still up around where he normally is, but the interceptions (18) are close to a career high with two games to go, and he's completing just 61.5% of his passes, his lowest mark since 2007.
- Robert Griffin III has to play his game if he’s going to be successful in the NFL. By that, I mean that he has to use his mobility on half the plays to set everything else up. It worked in the third quarter last week, and it was the most comfortable he’s looked in three starts with the team. Unfortunately, that probably doesn’t fall in line with what Hue Jackson envisions for the offense, and Griffin probably can’t survive so many of those downfield hits.
- The Chargers will be without starting RB Melvin Gordon, who was just three yards shy of 1,000 before suffering a knee and hip injury. It doesn’t sound like he’ll be able to suit up for this week’s game, which hurts even more so considering he developed into a better receiver as a sophomore due to Danny Woodhead’s early-season injury.
- Kenneth Farrow, an undrafted rookie, is expected to make the start. He has 51 carries for 164 yards (3.2 YPC). Veteran Ronnie Hillman was recently added to the roster, and he made his debut last week with 7 carries for 34 yards (4.9 YPC). It’s not a duo that should intimidate many clubs, and more importantly, San Diego’s run blocking is no where near the level of Buffalo’s run blocking from a week ago.
- Probably the craziest stat we will look at by the end of the season is the fact that the Browns are still 5th in the NFL in yards per carry. They are 25th when it comes to actual rushing yards per game, though, which tells you how frustrating it’s been to see the ground game abandoned too soon. Another remarkable stat, in my opinion, is the fact that Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson are the only two running backs (not counting fullbacks) on the roster to receive a carry this season. You almost always see a third string back get some work at some point.
Wide Receiver / Tight End
- With Keenan Allen lost in Week 1, Travis Benjamin was supposed to step up as the team’s top receiver after signing a free agent deal with them this offseason. Instead, the former Brown is what our affiliate calls “an unmitigated disaster.” He's third on the team with 44 catches for 602 yards and 4 touchdowns. Much of the issues he avoided last year with Cleveland — dropping passes, shying away from contact, and getting injured — have reversed course with San Diego.
- When I saw the name of the Chargers' leading receiver, I literally said, "Who?" to myself. Tyrell Williams, an undrafted free agent in 2015, has 59 catches for 925 yards and 6 touchdowns. Dontrelle Inman is next up with 51 catches for 715 yards and 4 touchdowns. Both players have height to go along with tight end Antonio Gates, who has 40 catches for 399 yards and 5 touchdowns. He is complimented by tight end Hunter Henry, who has 32 catches for 435 yards and 7 touchdowns.
- Terrelle Pryor has a torn ligament in his right middle finger that he’s going to play with through these last two games. The closest hand injury I’ve had was during basketball season, where I had a sprained ligament in my thumb that required about three to four weeks to heal. I was able to play through it at a high level still by taping my hand to offer that extra support. Pryor’s injury is more severe, though, and I’m not sure how much a tape job will help given the location. He tried buddy taping in the second half against the Bills, and it didn’t help him.
- It's disappointing that Corey Coleman has not had much production since returning from his hand injury. In the first two weeks of the season, he had catches of 58 and 47 yards. In the six games since he's been back, his maximum yardage in a single game is 41 yards. Andrew Hawkins has been largely ignored over the past five games, where he has 3 catches for 57 yards. The club has stopped playing Ricardo Louis and Rashard Higgins, making it tougher to evaluate them.
- The Chargers’ starting offensive line includes is typically LT King Dunlap, LG Orlando Franklin, C Matt Slauson, RG D.J. Fluker, and RT Joe Barksdale. According to our Chargers affiliate, Slauson “is the only offensive lineman on the Chargers who has looked like he belongs in the league every week.” Our affiliate said “the rest of the line has been varying levels of absolute garbage, with Barksdale and Franklin being the worst offenders out of the bunch.” Yikes.
- Is our affiliate’s claim substantiated? Back in Week 11, PFF ranked the Chargers’ offensive 32nd in the NFL:
The Chargers have allowed 147 total pressures over the season, worse than every team outside of Indianapolis, and with a QB getting rid of the ball significantly faster on average (2.45 seconds per attempt vs 2.75, the difference between 18th place in the league and 33rd). The run game may look better, but Melvin Gordon has gained 518 of his 838 rushing yards (61.2 percent) after contact, breaking 28 tackles to make it happen, so that flatters the blocking.
- Cleveland’s line has been nothing to brag about (although they do score better on PFF than the eye test would suggest). Cameron Erving has been credited with some marginal improvements over the past couple of weeks, but I’m still not seeing it.
- The Chargers run a 3-4 defense. Their starting defensive line includes DE Joey Bosa, NT Damion Square, and DT Corey Liuget. Bosa has been outstanding for the Chargers. In 10 games played, he leads the team with 7.5 sacks and has 17 quarterback hits. To show just how great those numbers are for a rookie, take a look at this stat a couple of weeks ago from PFF:
Joey Bosa had 1 sack and 2 hurries on just 16 pass rushes at CAR. He has the most pressure for any defender after 9 games in the past decade pic.twitter.com/i5mtk16kZ5— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) December 11, 2016
- The Browns got their edge rusher at the start of the second round with Emmanuel Ogbah. He’s been pretty good, still racking up a team high in sacks and quarterback hits. Carl Nassib's been stuck in mud as a non-factor for awhile now, basically becoming the new Joe Schobert in terms of seeing his playing time evaporate. The Chargers yield a lot of sacks, a number that could be higher if not for the fact that Rivers dishes the ball out quick.
- The Chargers' starting linebackers include OLB Melvin Ingram, ILB Korey Toomer, ILB Denzel Perryman, and OLB Kyle Emanuel. Ingram has 7 sacks and 18 quarterback hits. Toomer, Ingram, Emanuel, and backup Jatavis Brown have combined to force 10 fumbles. Perryman is the team’s best run stopper at linebacker.
- This is a week where Cleveland really needs Jamie Collins to step up his game. Here is what PFF said about him after last week’s game:
Collins has struggled in recent weeks grading poorly in coverage and run defense. While he did recorded 2 hurries rushing the passer, he allowed all three of his targets to be caught for 48 yards. In the past two weeks, Collins has allowed 96 yards on 9 of 9 passes into his coverage. He allowed a touchdown last week (first time in regular season since week 9 of 2014) and has yet to record an interception or pass defense since joining the Browns.
- The Chargers' two starting cornerbacks are Craig Mager and Casey Heyward, with Trovon Reed playing the nickel. Heyward has been a ball hawk, registering 7 interceptions and 19 passes defensed this year. He was rated as the top free agent signing in the NFL by PFF. That signing comes with a price, though, as they did not retain safety Eric Weddle, who is now thriving in San Diego. Our affiliate hasn’t liked what he’s seen from the team’s leftovers:
Safeties Jahleel Addae and Dwight Lowery are both quite bad at their jobs. Neither reads and reacts in time to be effective and they lack the athleticism to make up for it. They don't contribute much against the run, but it's their pass coverage where they're really awful.
- The Browns have 8 interceptions this season, which surprisingly is not the worst in the NFL. 4 of those picks came against Joe Flacco. When was the last time the Browns’ defense logged an interception? Way back in Week 10. They’ve gotten nothing the past four games. Although (barring last week) we’ve seen a slight improvement in yards allowed, turnovers are statement-makers, and Cleveland isn’t getting any.
- Josh Lambo is the Chargers' kicker. He's made 23-of-27 attempts this year, but 0-of-3 on attempts from beyond 50 yards. He should have the range, though, as he was 3-of-4 from that distance a year ago. He’s missed four extra points on the season (37-of-41).
- Drew Kasar is the Chargers' punter. His average (45.9) ranks 13th in the NFL, a few spots ahead of Britton Colquitt (45.4). The net average differential between the two is just as proportional.
- When the Chargers signed Travis Benjamin, I never would’ve guessed that he’d lose his punt return job so quickly with them. That’s what a couple of fumbles will do, though. Wide receiver Isaiah Burse has taken on kick and punt return duties instead, with little effectiveness. Mario Alford looked like a more natural kick and punt returner for Cleveland last week, so that's something to look forward to moving forward.
This year, we are listing predictions for multiple staff members here at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “The Chargers have had a rough time finishing games this year, and they are traveling across the country for a Christmas Eve game. The Browns, with their talent deficiency, haven’t been able to play the “any given Sunday” card because opposing teams have been so focused about not being the one to lose to Cleveland. I don’t see San Diego sharing that same intensity, and Cleveland will capitalize on it. Christmas comes early as the Browns pick up their first win, and the 49ers also beat the Rams.” Browns 24, Chargers 21.
Matt Wood: “This is a straight ass whipping. Philly Rivers lights up the Browns and Travis Benjamin kills the Browns so called safeties. Bosa has 3 sacks and gets standing ovations.” Chargers 38, Browns 12.
Josh Finney: “Chargers are not great when traveling, so their offense is running on half speed. Browns offense is historically hilarious, though.” Chargers 24, Browns 13.
Jon Stinchcomb: “Hue Jackson's willingness to shuffle quarterbacks is all anyone needs to know to predict the outcome of this one, and the next one.” Chargers 28, Browns 10.
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below!