On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 5. Below, we analyze a few advantages, disadvantages, or general thoughts about the two teams before getting to our predictions for the game.
The Evaluation of Baker Mayfield
- Heading into this week’s game, I think all eyes are on Baker Mayfield. There are a lot of perhaps more important facets to the game itself — like Cleveland’s running game against the Chargers’ run defense, and if the defense can deliver for a third straight week against Justin Herbert — but the Mayfield storyline has taken center stage amongst Browns fans.
- Mayfield is wearing a harness on his left shoulder. He says it’s not having an impact on his throwing, but the injury itself could be, especially on longer throws. Keep in mind the pain factor too — although I haven’t seen Mayfield get skittish, often times when you deliver those deeper throws, you are more prone to taking a hit, either one that you see coming or one that you don’t see coming. That could be contributing to Mayfield being a little too antsy to get the ball out, which can have an impact on your release point.
- My main thing is that I still see Mayfield’s decision-making being sound, aside from one play last week. As long as that is maintained, I have faith that with a week of practice to work on things, Mayfield will be better in Week 5.
Dealing With the Injury Situation
- Hi, Joey Bosa. With the Browns ruling LT Jedrick Wills out, that means Blake Hance or James Hudson will get the start against the Chargers. Hance was the replacement for Wills during the first three games, but Hudson earned the replacement reps to close out last week’s game because the coaching staff liked what they saw in practice. Who starts against Bosa and the Chargers? I like Hance’s consistency, but if the staff trended toward Hudson last week, then I’d expect that to continue into Week 5. I’m sure Kevin Stefanski and company will adjust the gameplan to account for the threat there, but it’s still something all fans should be aware of.
- The Chargers are dealing with their own tackle situation, though, which kind of equals things out. Storm Norton is substituting to start at right tackle for the Chargers, with Jadeveon Clowney and/or Myles Garrett ready to line up against him. Clowney and Garrett were dealing with their own soreness this week, but the hope is that both of them were more so being rested without the threat of having to sit out.
- The Browns rank 1st in the NFL in rushing yards per game (17) and 5th in rushing yards per play (5.06). The Chargers rank 29th in rush defense, allowing 139 yards per game and 30th in rushing yards per play (5.26). Their defense has been much more stout against the pass.
- With Mayfield’s issues last week, one might think to themselves that Cleveland will lean on Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt more than usual. Don’t be so sure on that. We’ve seen times before in which Kevin Stefanski, including against the Colts last year, actually goes against the grain and will be pass heavy early on. There could be a concerted effort to get Mayfield into a rhythm early on this week, at a time in the game where the Chargers’ defense might be baited up to try stopping the run. It’s never quite as simple as saying “run it all day.”
- The Chargers are a well-balanced offense. I’d love to see the Browns use a similar defensive strategy as last week. Blitzing at the right times, letting the front four do damage, and trusting those defensive backs in man coverage. I think this has to be a week where John Johnson III has a greater impact.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “As impressed as I am with Justin Herbert and the Chargers, I’m combining the fact that Cleveland’s defense has come alive in a major way these past two weeks, with how good the offensive rushing attack is. I also imagine that after seeing Mayfield’s issues last week, the coaching staff will strategize a way this week to put him in positions to make throws that are less affected by his injury.” Browns 24, Chargers 21
Thomas Moore: “Cleveland’s defense has shown the past two weeks that when they put their mind to it they can actually accomplish some good things. On offense, quarterback Baker Mayfield’s left arm is hanging by a string, sort of, so with the Chargers allowing an average of 139.5 rushing yards per game and 5.3 yards per carry, this might be the week to give Los Angeles a heavy dose of running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and see how they like it.” Browns 21, Chargers 17
Barry Shuck: “When everything is said and done this season, the Chargers will be looked at as one of the best teams in the AFC. They knocked off AFC Royalty in the Chiefs. They beat the NFC East’s pre-season fav Washington. They should have beaten Dallas which would make them undefeated. QB Justin Herbert has the eighth most passing yards in the league. The Browns are 22nd against the pass. What does that tell you? Cleveland leads the NFL in rushing whereas Los Angeles is horrible against the run. So, in order to achieve a Browns win they are going to have to pound the rock and play the 4-2-5 almost exclusively. Charger receivers Mike Williams and Keenan Allen are a dangerous duo and unfortunately only one can be double-covered. Cleveland’s receivers are almost MIA this year so far. And a rookie left tackle? Geez.....” Chargers 38, Browns 20
rufio: “This Browns defense is really coming together, but will face a tough challenge against Justin Herbert and the Bolts. I don’t think we will see the dominant performances we saw against the Bears or Vikings. But we’ll still show that we’ve made progress these past two weeks, and we’ll look better on that side of the ball than we did against Patrick Mahomes or Tyrod Taylor. We know the Chargers have playmakers in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, but they have to block our front 7, which has been tough to do all year. Corey Linsley is a fantastic Center, and I thought Rashawn Slater was the most complete OL in the draft last year. But is he up to blocking Myles Garrett?
Offensively, we’ve been off for the past two weeks. I think we see a bounce-back game from Baker and company, though we will have a tough time dealing with Joey Bosa because everyone has a tough time dealing with Joey Bosa. And Derwin James leads a secondary that is really good.
In the end I think we see Baker return to form a little bit, and Nick will have a monster game. Browns win a surprisingly comfortable game.” Browns 27, Chargers 21
Matt Wood: “Like last week, this game will be decided at the LOS and that should be good news for the Browns. The Chargers will want to test the Browns downfield and will rely on rookie LT Rashawn Slater to hold up against Myles Garrett and company. The fun matchup to watch for me will be Ekeler against JOK. Ekeler is a guy that would have MURDERED the Browns in the past, but now I think the Browns have a shot keeping him in check. I think Baker bounces back this week as well, he always seems to do his best when people think the worst.
Browns get the passing game going early, a turnover sparks a nice run and the run game finishes off the Bolts late.” Browns 33, Chargers 18
Ezweav: “Two things can be true simultaneously: Baker played horribly last week, and also for the entire year he’s looked pretty good on-balance. It is possible that his can’t-hit-the-broadside-of-the-barn-itus is a permanent condition and he’s just inaccurate now (even though he was leading the league in efficiency two weeks ago) but it seems more likely that last Sunday was just the yearly clunker he tends to throw out - like last year in Pittsburgh. The very next game is when he began the run that led to his stellar 2nd half. He’ll be just fine. The truly insane overreaction-takes we’ve seen this week will subside.
Similarly, the defense has been absolutely lights out the last couple of games. Also, they’re likely to face some problems with this Charger O. However the trend of the league so far against us is to acknowledge that our defensive line is a death-squad and to therefore try to get the ball out as quickly as possible. Mahomey & Thyroid did this well against us but Kirk Cousins wasn’t nearly as effective (the Bears of course being the outlier, thinking they could drop back into traditional pockets and scan the field. I doubt anyone else tries that anytime soon). Thus, offenses needing to scheme around the beefness of our front four gives us an advantage that isn’t going anywhere barring injury. Jeremiah Owosu Koramoah adds an element we haven’t had in…ever.
All to say that if the offense is back on point and defense is playing like it has, we’re almost impossible to beat.” Chargers 18, Browns 16
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.