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Browns vs. Chargers: NFL Week 13 Preview and Prediction

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Can Josh Gordon deliver in his debut?

San Diego Chargers v Cleveland Browns Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

This week, the Cleveland Browns take on the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 13 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.


Position-by-Position Evaluation


Quarterback

  • Philip Rivers has probably had one bad game this year, passing for nearly 3,000 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions in 11 games worth of action. He's also only taken 11 sacks all year, a sign of both how well he's protected and how quick he gets the ball out.
  • Last year, Rivers threw for 322 yards against the Browns, but had to do so on 46 pass attempts (his second-highest figure all season) and completed just 50% of his passes, as he logged 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.
  • We now have two samples of DeShone Kizer's play: his first 5 games (before being benched for Kevin Hogan), and then his five starts after that. Statistically, the improvements that Kizer has made in the second half include slightly improved accuracy, more yards per attempt, and fewer interceptions. But he’s still seeking the most important stat of all: a win.
  • First 5 Games: 81-of-159 (51%) for 851 yards, 3 TD, 9 INT. 28 rushes, 126 yards (4.5 YPC), 2 TD.
  • Last 5 Games: 85-of-154 (55%) for 972 yards, 2 TD, 5 INT. 26 rushes, 136 yards (5.2 YPC), 3 TD.

Running Back

  • The Chargers' running game features Melvin Gordon as the lead back. He's not exactly a workhorse, although he has carried the ball 20 or more times four times this season (as opposed to zero times for Isaiah Crowell). Gordon averages 3.7 YPC and has 5 touchdown runs. Undrafted free agent Austin Ekeler has taken on the backup role. he's averaging 4.8 YPC, and over the last three games, is getting about 7-8 carries a week.
  • Gordon has not been featured much in the receiving game lately; he has just 51 yards receiving in his past five games combined. But prior to that, he had receiving days of 65, 58, and 67 yards, along with 4 touchdown receptions on the season.
  • Not including the hiccup against the Jaguars, in the other three of his last four games, Isaiah Crowell has averaged 5.8, 5.6, and 5.9 YPC. He has the hot hand, and actually showed some patience on a few runs last week against the Bengals. The Chargers enter this game with the 32nd-ranked run defense, allowing an average of 133.5 yards per game on 4.86 YPC. We’ve gotten all hyped about Josh Gordon’s return, but the biggest impact that could have is keeping too many players out of the box to allow more room for Crowell to run.
  • Duke Johnson still leads the team with 50 catches for 446 yards. He's caught 77% of the targets that have come his way. The Browns get the edge here because Gordon vs. Crowell is a push, and Johnson puts Cleveland over the top.

Wide Receiver / Tight End

  • Keenan Allen has been on an absolute tear the past two weeks. During that stretch, he's caught 23 of 27 passes thrown his way for 331 yards and 3 touchdowns. We can’t be tempted to even try to compare Josh Gordon to any other team’s No. 1 receiver, until we see a sample size of what the 2017 Gordon does.
  • But we are most certainly excited about seeing that 2017 version of Josh Gordon. When you look back at his highlight reels, you see that the No. 1 element that separated him was pure speed. Defenders can’t jam him at the line of scrimmage, and then before you know it, he has a step and is gone for the races. The Chargers have a great cornerback to go up against him, but great speed can beat anyone. We’ll see how things unfold on gameday.
  • The Chargers' other two main receivers are Tyrell Williams (fun fact: did you know he had a 1,000+ yard receiving season in 2016?) and Travis Benjamin. Williams has 27 catches for 440 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Benjamin has 23 catches for 375 yards and 3 touchdowns.
  • Los Angeles also features a dual threat at tight end. Hunter Henry has officially replaced Antonio Gates atop the depth chart this year. Henry has 31 grabs for 420 yards and 3 touchdowns. Gates' role has diminished significantly. He has 16 catches for 147 yards and 1 touchdown, but just 1 catch for 3 yards over his last 3 games.
  • It’ll be interesting to see how the Browns’ receiver rotation looks this week. Kenny Britt has played better in recent weeks, so when Gordon needs a break, I’d put him in as the second outside receiver (along with Corey Coleman) and have Ricardo Louis take minimal reps.

Offensive Line

  • The Chargers’ starting offensive line features LT Russell Okung, LG Dan Feeney, C Spencer Pulley, RG Kenny Wiggins, and RT Joe Barksdale. Although the Chargers don't give up many sacks, that doesn't mean they don't allow pressure. As I said earlier, Rivers often gets rid of the ball quickly, which sometimes is simply a throwaway for an incomplete pass when he senses danger.
  • Okung is the strength of the Chargers’ line, but next to him is a player Cleveland can hope to exploit in Feeney, a rookie. He made his first start in Week 8 against the Patriots and thrived, but has slipped since then.
  • In pass protection, the Browns have a big problem this week: Joey Bosa is having a great sophomore season, and Spencer Drango is being more exposed week-by-week. The good news is that Cleveland’s interior has picked up their run blocking skills to make up for it.

Defensive Line

  • The Chargers run a 4-3 defense featuring DE Joey Bosa, NT Brandon Mebane, DT Corey Liuget, and DE Melvin Ingram. Bosa and Ingram have been great from the pass-rushing department; Bosa has 10.5 sacks and Ingram has 8.5 sacks. While the edges present a pass-rushing threat, the play of the interior is suspect, contributing to the Chargers having the worst-ranked run defense in the NFL.
  • Much like the Browns, the Chargers will use a heavy rotation at defensive tackle, with snaps for backups Tenny Palepoi, Damion Square, and Darius Philon.
  • Despite only playing in 6 games, Myles Garrett leads the Browns with 5 sacks and 13 quarterback hits. The crazy part about that is that I personally don’t think he’s found his sweet spot yet, and he’s still been productive. But with Emmanuel Ogbah out last week, Cleveland lost their other pass-rushing threat, as well as a significant contributor in their run defense as even the Bengals were able to run rampant on them.

Linebacker

  • The Chargers' starting linebackers are technically listed as OLB Kyle Emanuel, ILB Hayes Pullard, and OLB Denzel Perryman. Pullard returned from a neck injury last week, but has not been having a very good season. He only played 11 snaps on Thanksgiving, which might have been due to scheme, but he typically plays more than that.
  • Perryman missed the Chargers’ first eight games after a preseason ankle injury, but has returned for the team’s past three contests. He is the team’s best run defender, which has led to some improved play in that area. In terms of snap distribution, Perryman is the only one who has seen regular snaps lately, with the other backers playing about 20% of the game. This is definitely an area of weakness for the Chargers.
  • Did you know that Joe Schobert leads the NFL with 99 tackles, and Christian Kirksey is a close third with 93 tackles? Whether it be the tight ends or the safeties, something needs to improve against tight ends in coverage, though.

Secondary

  • The Chargers’ cornerbacks feature Casey Hayward and Trevor Williams, with rookie Desmond King in the nickel role. The Jaguars posed a tough test a few weeks ago, and the Chargers aren’t much easier. In fact, look how dominant Hayward has been, even against top-tier receivers:
  • Trevor Williams, an undrafted free agent a year ago, has played very well in a starting role this year. And then King, a 5th round pick, has played great in his rookie season and is an underrated defensive rookie of the year candidate if he can pick it up even more.
  • Los Angeles’ safeties include FS Tre Boston and SS Jahleel Addae. Boston has 4 interceptions, including 2 for touchdowns, on the season. Addae leads the Chargers in tackles.
  • Jason McCourty was made to look human last week; he didn’t allow A.J. Green to go off, but Green got the upper hand on several sideline catches to move the chains. This week, McCourty should draw the red-hot Keenan Allen. Briean Boddy-Calhoun had a good beat on two balls last week, but wasn’t able to intercept either of them.
  • Sadly, we’re still waiting for that big impact play by Jabrill Peppers. To his credit, his tackling seems to have improved over the second half of the season, though few plays still come his way. On his one good play as the angel safety last week, he was flagged and fined for hitting a defenseless receiver.

Special Teams

  • Nick Novak is the Chargers' kicker. Novak has been the Chargers' kicker as of late. He's connected on 9-of-13 field goals (69.2%), and missed an extra point last week. His career long s 53 yards.
  • Drew Kaser is the Chargers' punter. He averages 48.9 yards per punt and a 41.3 net average, which is nearly identical to Britton Colquitt in both categories.
  • RB Austin Ekeler or CB Desmond King handle kickoffs for the Chargers, with not much of a threat. On punt returns, WR Travis Benjamin has one punt return for a touchdown on the year, but has had some fumbling woes.

Predictions

Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.


Chris Pokorny: “I'm excited about Josh Gordon, but the Chargers are on a tear and his presence doesn't mean DeShone Kizer will throw good balls with Bosa and Ingram bearing down on him. The Chargers offense could get cold in their inconsistent ways, but I have to stick with the hot Chargers making fewer mistakes.” Chargers 23, Browns 20.


Matt Wood: “This is going to be so much fun to watch him again but I don't think it ends well. Josh mentions that the OL is going to really struggle to block and I hope Hue keeps some extra blockers in to help but it won't help much. Browns get a little spark with some WR screens and short routes to Gordon but the bigger issues still remain. Rivers has more ups than downs and the Chargers kill the Browns with, surprise, the TE.” Chargers 31, Browns 16.


Mike Hoag: “Josh Gordon is an exceptional athlete and an incredibly talented wide receiver, something the Browns have been missing ever since his exiling from the league. But that ability may not be enough to ignite a Browns offense enough to overcome what has become a formidable Charges defense. Philip Rivers is going to pick his spots to move the ball through the air, which he does effortlessly at times, and which will be enough to give the Chargers revenge for last season's Christmas Eve miracle Browns victory.” Chargers 23, Browns 19.


Andrea Hangst: “While the return of Josh Gordon should provide some degree of a spark on offense, it won't matter much. The Chargers have a defense skilled enough to manhandle Cleveland's offensive line and shut down the run, putting the game in DeShone Kizer's hands, where the Browns don't need it to be. Philip Rivers and the Chargers offense has little reason to struggle, either.” Chargers 19, Browns 10.


Joshua Finney: “Hey, Josh Gordon is back! It’s funny, an 0-11 team continues to find new ways to get you to tune in. The occasional fire Kizer start, Garrett coming back, the team playing in London, and Coleman/Gordon returning to action. None of it really matters when you’re last in red zone scoring and defense, and have a negative turnover differential. Play calling hurts, too. Drango is gonna get his ass whipped, Sunday. Amongst others.” Chargers 30, Browns 16.


rufio: “We are going to win a game. I'm picking "this game" every game until we win one. Browns OL can't handle the Bolts' pass rushers...except for the 5 or 6 plays we need to hit Gordon going deep. We don't need red zone offense because we strike from 40 yards out 3-4 times. Our defense forces several turnovers as Rivers likes to hold the ball and the Chargers can't block Myles Garret that long.” Browns 28, Chargers 24.


Ezweav: “Not to jinx it, but looking forward to seeing Gordon on the field. Don't see us having any kind of chance here. Chargers are hot, and we have a seriously depleted defense without Ogbah & Collins. They have a good defense as well, and Spencer Drango has shown the last few weeks that he actually is a guard trying to play tackle. I'm expecting Gordon to drop a TD pass and for Kessler to have to come into the game for some reason (where he'll drop back 4 times and not get off a pass attempt) and we lose.” Chargers 33, Browns 13.


Robo Dawg: “The return of Josh Gordon lends Hue to be overconfident with his vertical passing game, and we see an abundance of 3-and-outs by the Cleveland offense. Phillip Rivers with a chip on his shoulder manages to take advantage of the Browns inferior defense in the center of the field and easily moves the ball, reinforcing Jackson’s tendencies for going deep often. Cleveland gets lucky once or twice with the long ball, which has the added effect of bypassing our ill-equipped red zone offense, but overall the Chargers vaunted pass rush takes advantage of these slow-developing plays.

Incidentally, I will be at the game first hand to observe this travesty, and I was at the last game that Josh Gordon played in and won (in Atlanta 3 years ago). Cold rationality offset by superstition leads to the following prediction:” Chargers 42, Browns 17.


Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.

Poll

Who do you think will win, Browns or Chargers? Pick the one closest to your prediction.

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Browns by 7+
    (64 votes)
  • 17%
    Browns by 3
    (91 votes)
  • 5%
    Chargers by 3
    (30 votes)
  • 64%
    Chargers by 7+
    (334 votes)
519 votes total Vote Now