This 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.
Last Year’s Shootout
- Even though a lot has changed with these two teams, a lot also remains the same, so I think we have to look back to last year’s shootout in Los Angeles between the Browns and Chargers. It was a back-and-forth game that the Chargers ultimately won 47-42.
- The Browns led 20-13 at halftime, and then scored on the opening possession of the second half to go up 27-13. From there, Los Angeles said, “#&$% it” and decided to go aggressive.
- The Chargers went for it on 4th-and-2 at their own 24 yard line, and converted. Later in the drive, they went for it on 4th-and-7 at the Browns’ 22 yard line, and converted. It led to a touchdown — and not only that, they went for the two point conversion and got it to make it a six-point game at 27-21.
- Down by a touchdown with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Chargers went for a 4th-and-4 at their own 41 yard line, and converted. Later, on 4th-and-8 at the Browns’ 24 yard line, they went for it and converted again, before punching it in the end zone after that. If Cleveland gets a stop on just one of those plays, it completely changes the game and the Browns could’ve really put nails upon nails in the coffin.
- Brandon Staley has a knack for being aggressive with his calls at times, so the defense needs to stay on top of that — as if Justin Herbert wasn’t aggressive enough already.
Some Defensive Help
- The Chargers will be without DE Joey Bosa this week, but there are a couple of key defenders they added this offseason: DE Khalil Mack, who has five sacks, and CB J.C. Jackson, who is coming off of a Pro Bowl year with the Patriots. Jackson, though, has struggled to begin the season, much like CB Denzel Ward has for Cleveland.
- Los Angeles has allowed a 50-yard run in three consecutive games: a 52-yarder to Clyde Edwards-Helaire in Week 2, a 50-yarder to James Robinson in Week 3, and a 75-yarder to Dameon Pierce in Week 4. Outside of those big runs, their run defense hasn’t been bad, but that makes you think Nick Chubb and/or Kareem Hunt, the league’s best rushing tandem, could spring a big play. Chubb had a 52-yard touchdown run against the Chargers last year.
- Speaking of defensive help, Cleveland gets at least some of it back this week with the return of Myles Garrett. There’s a chance that Taven Bryan and Jadeveon Clowney could be back as well. Not only would that patch up the Browns’ run defense issues from a week ago, it gives them the much-needed pass rush too.
- The storyline that hasn’t been talked about as much was the play of Jacob Phillips last week, filling in for Anthony Walker. Phillips had a bad performance after previously being a role-player in his career. Hopefully he gets some much-needed defensive coaching ahead of his second start, so he doesn’t overpursue against the run. Perhaps some better play in front of him will help him settle down a bit.
- How big will special teams be on Sunday? As Jared Mueller pointed out, the Browns should consider forcing the Chargers to field kickoffs, as they have struggled to return them back to the 25 yard line. When you factor in holding penalties that often occur on special teams, you need to take every field position advantage you can get.
- The Chargers will also be without Keenan Allen again, although Mike Williams haunted Cleveland’s secondary last year (8 catches, 165 yards, 2 touchdowns) and is their leading receiver in 2022 as well. As Tom Moore noted, some of that success last year against Cleveland came when the Chargers decided to go up-tempo — will we see defensive coordinator Joe Woods learn his lesson and have his group prepared for some of these things?
- Los Angeles could be without K Dustin Hopkins on Sunday, as they called up K Taylor Bertolet from the practice squad. He wasn’t a reliable kicker in college (66%) and missed some extra points too, so if he’s forced into action, could we see the Chargers adopt the, “Let’s go for two” approach again?
- Sticking with special teams, WR Chester Rogers gets the call-up for Cleveland, so he should be back to fielding punts like he was two weeks ago.
- With the Cleveland Guardians sweeping the Tampa Bay Rays, there will not be a Game 3 following the Browns game on Sunday.
- According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are 2 point underdogs against the Chargers.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “Earlier in the week, I predicted the Chargers to win, and although I’m sticking to that, there have been a few things over the past couple of days that have tried to nudge me to change my mind. That includes the return of Myles Garrett, the potential return of Jadeveon Clowney, the Chargers’ not having Keenan Allen back, and their kicking situation, coupled with the fact that they are making the long road trek. For as much as I like what the offense has done in terms of ball control, though, this team had a chance to go 4-0 against a soft schedule, and ultimately only finished 2-2. Now, the tough part of the schedule starts, and I need Cleveland to step up and prove themselves on defense — otherwise, if the Chargers get ahead by two scores in the second half, can we expect Jacoby Brissett to rally the troops? That’s not his game.” Chargers 28, Browns 24
Barry Shuck: “No team in the league has passed for more yardage than the Chargers. They are also dead last in rushing yards. This means they are going to throw the ball almost every down except for short yardage situations. QB Justin Herbert is deadly accurate and likes to throw. LA has scored the second most points with 129 which is just over 32 points a game. And the offense gets spread out evenly among his receivers, tight end and running back so you can’t double one specific guy.
How do you stop an offense like this? With a menacing pass rush that will make Herbert stop short of his progressions and make him throw the ball before he is ready. Also, a defensive backfield that can cover man and not give any soft zones with good communication.
Unfortunately, Cleveland’s defense isn’t any of this.
And while the Browns defense might not be able to slow down their aerial attack, LA is middle-of-the-pack with run defense which plays into Cleveland’s strategy. The Chargers have allowed the second most yards per carry so far this year at 5.4 which is perfect for the smash mouth approach of the Browns. Expect this one to be close in the first half, and then the Browns defense will do what it does every game and falter in the second half.” Chargers 37, Browns 13
rufio: “The Browns have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory more than once since 1999, and they managed to do it again last week. This offensive line and the Best Back Alive™ Nick Chubb are enough to keep the team in most games, and continue to be a bright spot. The defense seems to run hot and cold, which is a theoretical good fit if the Browns have a solid lead. But we saw the Falcons run the ball almost exclusively on two drives that led to 10 fourth-quarter points last week. Coupled with some...interesting...red zone playcalling from Kevin Stefanski, we saw a team that has not yet played up to its talent.
Myles Garrett might be back, but will that be enough? In the end, I don’t think so.” Chargers 34, Browns 17
Jared Mueller: “The negativity surrounding the Cleveland Browns is palpable. A team that was simply one play away in two different games from being 3-1 or 4-0 is being talked about as if they got blown out in every game. That doesn’t mean fans should be happy with the 2-2 record, especially given the opponents, but the team has been competitive despite a lot of turnover this offseason, losing Jadeveon Clowney for two games and Myles Garrett and Taven Bryan for Week 4 as well.
The Los Angeles Chargers are an interesting team who also sits at 2-2. They have loads of talent on offense and defense but injuries at key positions have hamstrung them this season. The Chargers have the worst rushing attack in the NFL, a paltry 64.5 yards per game on 2.7 yards per carry. Their defense is in the middle of the pack in terms of yards given up but is third worst in points per game at 27.
Given everything, including that the game is at home and Los Angeles will be playing at 10 AM their time, I think the game is much closer than many think and a little bit of a shootout. While Cleveland’s offense isn’t set up to be led by their passing attack, the run game is explosive by itself. A one-dimensional offense will help the defense play slightly better along with, likely, the return of at least Garrett to the defensive line.” Browns 30, Chargers 28
Ezweav: “People really seem to be extremely hot and cold with this team. Last week it was sort of assumed that Cleveland would roll over the Falcons. When that didn’t happen, many now are going hard the other direction in thinking that we simply can NOT beat this Charger team. Like last week I think this assumption is a bit specious; like every game we’ve had this year, this one is likely to be another nail-biter.
Did you know the Browns have actually been better statistically than the Chargers on offense so far? We’ve scored more points and touchdowns, have been more efficient with the ball in our possessions and have been way better on 3rd downs (40.7% versus 45% efficiency). This is NOT to say in blanket fashion that we have a better offense than they do (right now) but it is to say we’re not exactly overmatched in this arena.
Be that as it may both teams do things offensively that causes problems for the other. However with respect to what they do specifically, it might actually be a better matchup than last week. The Falcons exposed a major flaw in our run defense and exploited the hell out of it. The Chargers don’t even try to run the ball, so that’s something to take into consideration when determining how we’ll fare against them. Even assuming we won’t have Clowney or Myles, if we communicate well and stay disciplined in our zones we can make them go down the field slowly, which works to our advantage.
And that is because we are the real deal when it comes to having a truly dominant running game. That’s going to be a problem for the Lightning Bolts, especially as they also come in without their best EDGE guy Joey Bosa. Yes Khalil Mack is great but not as great as our offensive line, backs and scheme.
Which is all to say, we stand a much better shot than many of us are currently thinking. That said, I see us doing something like taking a 1 point lead with a few seconds remaining after a 21 play, 94 yard drive that sapped about 13 minutes off the clock. But then the PAT will get blocked and returned all the way - a Kick Deuce.” Chargers 23, Browns 22
Thomas Moore: For the first time this season, the Browns are facing a game that they reportedly have no chance of winning. After all, they are facing the Los Angeles Chargers and quarterback Justin Herbert, who are members of the over-rated, oops, “rough-and-tumble” AFC West Division, so what chance do the guys from Cleveland have?
Not to take anything away from Herbert, who is a nice enough quarterback, but the inconvenient truth is that since the start of the 2020 season the Browns have a better record than the Chargers, even if they bring about one-tenth of the hype into the game.
The Browns can run the ball, the Chargers defense is weak, especially against the run, and it is time for the Browns to give everyone a win that no one expects. Cleveland will take the good energy the Cleveland Guardians have put out into the NE Ohio atmosphere and come out a winner in a close game. Browns 21, Chargers 17
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.