The Cleveland Browns go on the road this Sunday to take on the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers come into the game losing two straight after beating the Detroit Lions to open their season, while Cleveland is coming off a disappointing loss to the Oakland Raiders.
Here are this week’s keys to the game for the Browns.
Sack Philip Rivers
The Browns defense needs to find a way to generate a pass rush on Rivers, and based off the Chargers first three games they should be able to do so. Rivers has been sacked 10 times this season, which is the third most so far this year.
San Diego’s line, according to Pro Football Focus, has been the worst pass blocking line in football so far this year with a Pass Blocking Efficiency rating of 69.9. The line has allowed eight sacks (tied for 2nd most allowed) and 46 total pressures (tied for 4th most) through three games. Rivers has been under pressure for 39.5 percent of his dropbacks (9th among starters), and while the Browns struggled to generate a pass rush last week against Oakland, we did see them get after Marcus Mariota in Week 2.
The key here, however, is sacking Rivers and not just applying pressure. So far this year, Rivers has completed 74.5 percent of his passes. His completion percentage only drops to 70.6 percent while under pressure, which is second to only Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor. Rivers isn’t known as a mobile quarterback, but the veteran surely knows how to handle pressure in the pocket. Consistent pressure on the quarterback is always good, but this week the Browns will need to generate sacks as well.
Don’t Abandon the Run
Last week against Oakland, the Browns only ran the ball 14 times. While that was largely because they were playing from behind all afternoon, the Browns offense must be able to run the ball in order to succeed, something they’ve had mixed results doing so far this year.
The good news is that Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson should have a much easier time this week, as the Chargers defense is nearly as bad as the Browns at stopping the run this year. San Diego is currently tied for 28th in the league in rushing yards per game allowed, surrendering 135.7 per contest. They’re also 31st in rushing yards per attempt allowed, giving up an average of 4.9 yards per carry. This means the Browns should look to run early and often, and the opportunity for big gains should be there for Crowell and Johnson.
Stop the Playmakers
Looking back at the first three games for the Browns this season, you can see a pattern starting to establish itself, the Browns defense struggles to stop offensive playmakers. Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and Amari Cooper all had big days against the Browns defense. You can also include Dexter McCluster in this equation.
Allen has been targeted 39 times and has hauled in 29 catches for 315 yards and two touchdowns for San Diego this year, and is coming off of a 12-reception, 133-yard two touchdown performance against the Minnesota Vikings. Floyd’s numbers aren’t as eye popping, as he only has 147 receiving yards on seven catches, but he is averaging 21 yards per catch this year so his big play ability is still alive and well. And at 6’5” he is an obvious red zone target. This all adds up to one thing, Joe Haden and company will need to keep both Allen and Floyd in check.
The Browns also need to pay attention to rookie running back Melvin Gordon, who is averaging 4.3 yards per carry this season, and Danny Woodhead. While Woodhead only has 90 rushing yards on 25 carries (3.6 yards per carry average), he’s been targeted 16 times as a receiver, catching 12 passes for 119 yards (9.9 yards per catch average). The majority of his receptions come out of the backfield, and he has the ability to pick up yards in space, so Cleveland’s defense will need to make sure Woodhead doesn’t gash them for a big gain.
Contrary to what their 1-2 record might say about them, the Chargers are a tough opponent. Philip Rivers has a .701 winning percentage in home games over his career, and the Chargers offense is 4th in the league in yards per game, averaging 402 per contest this season.
The Browns defense has struggled in many aspects so far this year, and if San Diego builds an early lead Cleveland may be forced to abandon the run.
Prediction: San Diego wins 24-10.