Chargers vs. Browns matchups: Can offensive line protect Justin Herbert?

Chargers offensive tackle Rashawn Slater warms up before a game.
Chargers offensive tackle Rashawn Slater warms up before a game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 19.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Breaking down how the Chargers (3-1) and the Cleveland Browns (3-1) match up heading into their game at 1:05 p.m. Pacific time Sunday at SoFi Stadium. The game will be carried on CBS (Channel 2).

When Chargers have the ball: Most prominent among the offseason upgrades for the Chargers has been the offensive line, which — with right tackle Bryan Bulaga (back) on the injured reserve list — has five different starters than a year ago. Veteran center Corey Linsley and rookie left tackle Rashawn Slater have led the group, both ranked among the top 10 at their position by Pro Football Focus. Cleveland, however, arrives with what Chargers coach Brandon Staley called “one of the elite [defensive] fronts in the league.” The Browns feature end Myles Garrett, who is ranked No. 3 at his position by PFF. Garrett entered Week 5 leading the NFL with six sacks. “I don’t know if there’s a better defensive end pass rusher in the NFL,” Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. “He’s a guy that can ruin your day by himself very quickly.” Garrett figures to seek out right tackle Storm Norton, who is filling in for Bulaga and will be making just his seventh NFL start. Quarterback Justin Herbert’s ability to feel pressure and get rid of the ball quickly figure to again be keys to the Chargers sustaining possessions. Austin Ekeler is coming off a career game running the football, finishing with a 117-yard performance against Las Vegas. Cleveland’s defense is third best against the run and pass, and fourth in points allowed. The Chargers will have to earn what they get in this game.

Chargers coach Brandon Staley, “just a kid from Perry, Ohio,” will display the same meticulous preparation for the Browns game he showed in high school.

Oct. 10, 2021


When Browns have the ball: Coach Kevin Stefanski’s ideal afternoon would have Cleveland take an early lead, maintain the advantage into the fourth quarter and then pound the Chargers into the ground with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The Browns’ top two running backs are well known for creating yards after taking the initial hit. “These two guys are as good as it gets on contact,” Staley said. “That’s what the data will tell you.” The Chargers significantly tightened their run defense Monday against the Raiders, surrendering only 48 yards and two first downs on the ground. But this Cleveland duo is another level of challenge, even as the Browns deal with injuries along their offensive line. Quarterback Baker Mayfield had his poorest game of the season last weekend. It also recently was revealed that he has been dealing with an injury to his left (nonthrowing) shoulder. Odell Beckham Jr., who missed the first two games because of a knee injury, had only two catches for 27 yards last weekend at Minnesota. Staley still called him “an incredible creator with the football.” Chargers fans haven’t had to worry much about Beckham. He has played only once against the Chargers — in 2017 as a member of the New York Giants. Beckham finished that day with five receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown.

When they kick: The Chargers’ Tristan Vizcaino is six for seven on field-goal tries and seven for nine on extra points. Chase McLaughlin, a former Charger, has made all 16 — seven field goals and nine extra points — of his attempts.

Jeff Miller’s prediction: The Chargers have some significant confidence after victories at Kansas City and over Las Vegas. They double-down on that confidence in this spot.