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What we learned from the Chargers' 38-14 victory over Cleveland

What we learned from the Chargers' 38-14 victory over Cleveland
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers celebrates after hooking up with receiver Tyrell Williams on a 29-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter against the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 14. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

What we learned from the Chargers’ 38-14 victory Sunday over Cleveland.

Even with injuries, the offensive line is improving

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Joe Barksdale (knee) missed his fourth consecutive game, but Russell Okung (groin) returned as the Chargers got healthier at tackle. The offensive line was dominant throughout much of the game as the Chargers picked up 246 rushing yards, matching Seattle (27-3 win over Oakland) for the NFL’s second-biggest rout of the day. “We want to be an explosive offense, whether we’re throwing it over your head or running it on the ground,” Okung said. “We want to get the ball in our playmakers’ hands and allow them to do what they do best. Today was a testament to that.” Of the offensive line’s growth, he added, “It’s a great mix of guys who believe in one another and push to make sure we’re strong.”

The pass rush is coming along too

For the second consecutive game, the Chargers managed to make things difficult for the opposing quarterback. They sacked Baker Mayfield five times and kept improving in the absence of Joey Bosa (foot). Bosa, at the earliest, isn’t expected to return to practice until after the Chargers’ Week 8 bye. “They’re winning one-on-ones,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “They’re taking some the pressure away from [defensive end] Melvin Ingram. That’s what we need to see.” The Chargers also overcame the loss of linebacker Jatavis Brown (groin), who had been starting in place of Kyzir White (knee). Linebackers Denzel Perryman, Kyle Emanuel and Uchenna Nwosu shifted around to cover for the injuries. Safety Adrian Phillips also was employed more. “The secondary is getting used to it now,” Lynn explained. “The coverage is getting tighter on the back end when we have to bring secondary pressure and things like that. It came together well today.”

A kicker controversy might be developing

Rookie Michael Badgley marked his NFL debut by not missing, kicking five extra points and the 44-yard field goal that closed out the Chargers’ scoring. He started Sunday in place of Caleb Sturgis, who missed the game because of a quadriceps injury. Sturgis was up and down during the Chargers’ first five games, missing four extra points and three field goals, each one at least 48 yards. “There were obviously a lot of juices flowing,” Badgley said. “I was excited…. As game goes on, you get more used to being out there.” Lynn wouldn’t say who would kick this week, instead preferring to see how Sturgis is physically. “I think right now we feel comfortable with Mike,” he said. “He did a good job today. Maybe we’ll let [Sturgis] heal another week and just go with Mike.”

Philip Rivers, 36, can still throw a block

It wasn’t a pancake. But it wasn’t a cupcake, either. On a reverse to Keenan Allen (one of Allen’s four carries Sunday), the veteran quarterback ran downfield and interfered enough with Jamie Collins to allow Allen more space to pick up a first down. The Chargers were leading at the time 28-6. “That just lets you know he loves the game,” running back Melvin Gordon said. “Phil is a high-energy guy who’s going to do whatever it takes to win. Every snap, he shows that.” Lynn wasn’t exactly thrilled seeing Rivers engage Cleveland’s rigid linebacker. But he appreciated the effort and the result. “Yeah, I saw that,” Lynn said. “He helped us get a first down with that. That was a critical first down. But I don’t want to see him doing that too many times.”

The slow-start concerns are dead

The Chargers were visibly pleased with their performance and clearly relieved to bury a vulnerable opponent on a day when the Browns were ripe to be exposed. After opening last season 0-4, the remainder of the schedule was a struggle to get back to relevance. The Chargers began this year 1-2 but now have won three in a row to improve to 4-2 going into a Week 7 date opposite Tennessee, a 21-0 loser at home to Baltimore on Sunday. “It’s amazing, completely the opposite of what we did last year,” wide receiver Keenan Allen said of the improved record. “Now we don’t have to worry about it on the back end. As long as we keep it up and stay consistent, we should be fine.” The Titans finished with only 106 yards and seven first downs. Marcus Mariota was sacked 11 times for 66 yards in losses.

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