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Know Your Enemy: Cleveland Browns

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After a supremely disappointing road trip, the Chargers return home to San Diego. Awaiting them: a matchup with the Cleveland Browns. Here's what you need to know about the team from Ohio.

Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Coaching Staff

  • Head coach: Mike Pettine (8-11)
  • Offensive Coordinator: John DeFilippo
  • Defensive Coordinator: Jim O'Neil

Pettine is in his second year helming the Cleveland Browns after posting the team's highest win total since 2007 with a 7-9 record. He began his career in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001 before later joining Rex Ryan in New York - with whom he previously worked in Baltimore -  where he served as the Jets' defensive coordinator from 2008-2012. After a one-year stint with the Bills at the same position, Pettine became the eighth head coach of the Cleveland Browns since the turn of the millennium.

DeFilippo joined Pettine's staff this year, replacing Kyle Shanahan. 2015 marks just his ninth season in the NFL, the previous eight of which he worked as a quarterbacks coach, both with the Raiders (2007-2008, 2012-2014) and the Jets (2009).

O'Neil is also a rather young NFL coach, as 2015 is just his seventh season in the league. He previously worked with Pettine in both New York and Buffalo, where he served as a linebackers coach.

Last Week's Recap: Lost to the Raiders in Cleveland, 27-20

The Browns helped the Raiders snap an 11-game road losing streak and as a result that Game of Thrones lady yelled at them at practice all week. Cleveland had little answer for Oakland's offense as Derek Carr threw for 314 and two scores while Latavius Murray racked up 139 yards rushing on 5.3 yards a carry.

After the Raiders jumped out to a 17-3 halftime lead, the Browns abandoned an ineffective ground game in the second half - Isiah Crowell and Duke Johnson combined for 39 yards on 14 attempts - and turned things over to Josh McCown, which is an almost universally inadvisable thing to do. Cleveland failed to provide adequate protection for its signal caller, who was in his first game back since his failed John Elway attempt, as McCown was sacked five times.

To his credit though, McCown was able to get the Browns within a touchdown late in the fourth quarter thanks to his arm as he threw for 341 yards and two scores on 28-for-49 passing. However, also thanks to his arm, McCown doomed Cleveland's comeback attempt  on the Browns' final drive by throwing an interception.

Key Players: Offense

QB Johnny Manziel, RB Isiah Crowell, LT Joe Thomas, WR Travis Benjamin

Cleveland has the worst group of skill players in the NFL. I was going to write "arguable the worst" but I really don't think there's a case to be made for anyone else.

While the aforementioned 36-year old journeyman McCown is the starting quarterback and there is no guarantee that Manziel gets into the game, I have him here for a couple of reasons. The first being that he did lead the Browns to their first win of the season against the Titans and the second being that the Chargers don't normally fare well against mobile quarterbacks (or backup quarterbacks for that matter). So there is a chance Manziel gets in and works a little magic against a defense that struggles to corral quarterbacks and tackle just about anyone.

Crowell emerged on the scene last year, totaling 607 yards on a 4.1 average in his rookie season. While rookie Duke Johnson Jr. figures to see some carries, Crowell should be the lead back and should get the ball more than the 10 times he did against Oakland given how poor San Diego's run defense has been to this point.

Quick! Who's Cleveland's leading receiver? I don't blame you if you got it wrong, even though the answer is right up there. Travis Benjamin leads the team in receiving yards (249) and touchdowns (4), while he's tied for the team lead in receptions with Gary Barnidge - yes, the Gary Barnidge - with 10. For those of you that still struggle with 3rd grade math, that's a 24.9 yards per catch average, so Benjamin represents the Browns' best chance for a big play.

Given all of the above and everything that has occurred since he arrived in Ohio eight years ago, you have to feel bad for Joe Thomas. The Browns blindside protector has been one of the best, if not the best, left tackle in the game for the majority of his career. Technically sound, incredibly consistent, and possessing the kind of durability that Joe D'Alessandris can only dream of, Thomas ranks among the game's best.

Key Players: Defense

NT Danny Shelton, OLB Armonty Bryant, CB Joe Haden, S Tashaun Gipson

Given all of the concerns on the Chargers offensive line, you could just pencil in the opposing team's starting front every week and call it a day. But since you deserve better, I won't do that.

Rookie nose tackle Danny Shelton was the first of Cleveland's two first round picks this past April and he certainly looks the part. He's a load in the middle of the defense - weighing in at nearly 340 pounds - and could make it difficult for Melvin Gordon to get going up the middle against a banged up Chargers offensive line.

Speaking of Browns first round picks, Barkevious Mingo hasn't exactly developed into the pass rushing threat off of the edge that Cleveland had hoped for, which is shocking in that Cleveland still hopes for things out of its first round picks. Instead it is Armonty Bryant - a former seventh round pick - who leads the team in sacks with 2.5 on the year.

Cornerback Joe Haden leads the strength of the Browns defense as the Pro Bowl defensive back has evolved into one of the game's best corners. While he's yet to haul in an interception this season, he's picked of quarterbacks at least three times in four of his first five years in the NFL. Haden has all the attributes you look for a in a top corner - athleticism, physicality, anticipation, speed, agility, ball skills, etc. - and figures to shadow Keenan Allen on Sunday.

Haden, however, isn't the lone man in the Browns' secondary, as safety Tashaun Gipson is a skilled player in his own right. The fourth-year man out of Wyoming has become one of the better young safeties in the NFL and is responsible for the Browns only interception on the season to date. The former undrafted rookie is adept at playing both the run and the pass and flies to the ball when playing either.