Chargers (3-2) at Cleveland (2-2-1)
When Chargers have the ball
The Chargers have turned the ball over only five times, with two interceptions and three fumbles, and one of those fumbles came on special teams. But Cleveland leads the NFL with 15 takeaways, at least four more than every other team entering Week 6. Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is famous for using multiple sets in an attempt to confuse the opposition. Chargers coach Anthony Lynn likened Williams’ thick playbook to a Rolodex. Lynn’s offense will try to continue a run-pass balance that he said couldn’t have been better through the first five games. Running backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler have formed a dynamic 1-2 option and Philip Rivers has been accurate and efficient. The 15th-year quarterback is on pace to throw for nearly 4,800 yards. The franchise record of 4,802 was set by Dan Fouts in 1981. The Browns will attempt to make Rivers scramble, something they have done well so far against other teams. Cleveland’s defense, led by second-year lineman Myles Garrett, has been credited with 73 quarterback pressures after ranking 31st in the league last season. The Chargers are averaging more than 27 points but standout receiver Keenan Allen has only one touchdown.
When Browns have the ball
Lynn described Cleveland’s running game as “a three-headed monster.” The Browns lead the NFL in yards rushing and attempts. Carlos Hyde, Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson make up that beast. The quarterback is only a one-headed monster, but he’s basically set the city of Cleveland ablaze through his first three games. The uncertainty around the Browns drafting Baker Mayfield No. 1 overall has been trampled by everyone in northeast Ohio rushing to loot coolers full of beer. Mayfield leads rookie quarterbacks in pretty much every category that matters. He’s also helped the Browns win twice, an achievement of immense satisfaction since this franchise recently went 37 games with only one victory. Mayfield is proving to be a capable passer, although his feet will be a significant concern for the Chargers. His ability to extend plays promises to add pressure to a defense that has struggled to sustain a pass rush. The Chargers seemed to have a breakthrough in that regard last week, sacking Oakland’s Derek Carr three times. But the Raiders had a pair of rookies starting at offensive tackle, helping enable that breakthrough.
When they kick
The Chargers entered the weekend unsure if Caleb Sturgis (quadriceps) would be able to kick. If he can’t, rookie Michael Badgley will make his NFL debut. Either way, the Chargers and their kicker will remain a story for at least another week. The Browns have an undrafted rookie named Greg Joseph, who was born in South Africa and played at Florida Atlantic, not exactly a standard journey to the NFL. He is six of seven on field goals, three of four on extra points and kicked the game-winning field goal — a 37-yard knuckleball — a week ago in overtime.
Jeff Miller’s prediction
The Chargers opened as the slightest of favorites and remained there all week, suggesting that the overwhelming sentiment is this game will be close. The weather is forecast to be much more Cleveland-like than L.A.-like, but playing on the road shouldn’t bother a Chargers team accustomed to hearing enemy noise regardless of the venue. The Browns are talented and trending upward. They are, however, also young. The Chargers are talented and have won two straight for the first time this season. And they’re more experienced.
CHARGERS 34, BROWNS 31