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San Diego Chargers vs Cleveland Browns Game Preview and Staff Predictions

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An in-depth preview of the upcoming matchup between the San Diego Chargers and Cleveland Browns, along with predictions by members of the Bolts from the Blue staff.

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It's been a rough couple weeks for Charger fans as the offense has stalled and the defense hasn't registered a sack since the 1st quarter of week 1. If there's a team to get back on track against, it's the Browns. Can San Diego take advantage?

When the Browns have the ball

You're allowed to sack the QB

It's been 3 weeks, and the only sack the Chargers have was when Kyle Emanuel came unblocked against the Lions. That's embarrassing. You'd think even by accident the team would get at least 1 a game. Melvin Ingram's preseason was a mirage as he has yet to finish and on the other side Jerry Attaochu had his best game a pro last week but that still wasn't enough.

The Browns have plenty of talent along the offensive line, Joe Thomas hasn't even surrendered a QB hit let alone a sack in 3 weeks, but they haven't put it all together, either. Per Football Outsiders, the Browns offensive line is worse than the Chargers in both adjusted line yards and adjusted sack rate. They're 30th in offensive DVOA so as a unit, they're just not consistent. They have the same number of penalties up front as the Chargers line with 12, too.

This matchup will come down to whoever is more consistent throughout the game. The Browns right tackle Mitchell Schwartz showed he was susceptible to the kind of athleticism the Chargers have on the edge.

That's just 1 area and until we see improvements, advantage: Browns.

Finishing in Space

Last week it got to the point where Manti Te'o got benched for 2nd rounder Denzel Perryman. It didn't last long but we are at that point with Te'o, who missed 2 tackles last week, changes are coming. Donald Butler has been better than Te'o but that's not necessarily a compliment. Butler could've been an easy victim of a TD last week. When your 2 inside linebackers combine for 3.5 tackles against a team that has Adrian Peterson you know they're not making plays.

The somewhat good news is the Browns have been just as inconsistent in the backfield. Between Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, Cleveland's offensive coordinator looks like he has no idea how to use the 2. The rotation is weird and neither really gets a chance to get going. I'd expect the Browns to do everything they can to isolate these 2 on the Chargers linebackers. Every running back has had their way in space so far and San Diego is pretty clearly one of the worst tackling teams in the NFL.

Advantage: Browns.

Making the most of Opportunities

I doubt it's their philosophy but it seems like the Browns are throwing more deep passes than any of the previous Chargers opponents. It  could certainly be because they've been down and are attempting to manufacture comebacks. They're not household names but the combination of Travis Benjamin, Andrew Hawkins, and Taylor Gabriel bring a speed dimension that the team just isn't used to. Benjamin is the Browns shot guy and has 10 catches averaging 24 yards a pop.

Last week Steve Williams definitely made the most of his opportunities. He was great. That was a phantom DPI. Patrick Robinson also continues to play at a high level for the Chargers. Jason Verrett has had a rough couple weeks and with him and Brandon Flowers coming off injury this unit is just better than the speedy Browns. Cleveland's QB Josh McCown will hang in there and give his guys a chance. I'm not counting on the pass rush but I do think this is the week where San Diego's secondary looks more like Week 1. Advantage: Chargers.

When the Chargers have the ball

The offense has started at snail speed this season. The team can't keep expecting to put up single digits in the 1st half and expect to win. Last week, they didn't stretch the field until that third and long flag route to Malcom Floyd. Defenses are going to sit on all these shallow crossing routes. I understand Ladarius Green being out hurt but if the team wants to run the ball and throw these short passes, they're going to have to keep defenses honest.

Makeshift offensive line

I honestly have no idea who the starting 5 will be. Murphy's Law is so prevalent when it comes to this offensive line. Contrary to popular belief, the unit didn't play that bad last week. D.J. Fluker played like a guy that didn't practice all week but it was really King Dunlap who struggled the most. I thought Philip Rivers had time, he just didn't execute like we're used to seeing.

This week the offense needs to get back to its roots. There's a lot of last minute changes to the play and it's leading to a lot of frantic play. For example, one of the last-minute audibles last week was an inside run play to the left and tight end David Johnson ended up running a crossing route. He doesn't block the guy he was supposed to and instead of a 7 yard run it's a gain of 1. That's what's happening now. Rivers needs to either simplify things, especially with new names across the line of scrimmage, or get to the line earlier and make the defense tip their hand earlier in the snap count.

Up front the Browns have gone 2 weeks without a sack and 1 week with 9 sacks. Common sense would tell you that they're going to bring the blitz and bring it often. The Chargers have yet to adjust to the double A-gap blitz since the Patriots exposed them late last year. The Browns have everyone's favorite Danny Shelton up the middle but where they're really winning is with their trio of true defensive tackles. The difference between this group and San Diego's defensive line is they're winning their 1-on-1 battles. That won't stop this week. Advantage: Browns.

Getting Creative with Woodhead?

Last week, though for a negative play, we saw a jet sweep with Danny Woodhead. We also was lined up as a true wide/slot receiver. I liked it. Didn't attack him as much as they probably could've, but it was there. The Browns inside linebackers are pretty damn athletic and they can also finish in space. I wonder if Frank Reich tries to utilize Melvin Gordon is space more as a result of the injuries up front. Gordon didn't do much last week gut he still broke 4 tackles. As well as the Browns have played up the middle, I don't see any reason why the Chargers running backs will be stopped, independently of course. Advantage: Chargers.

Strength in the Secondary?

You hear the name Joe Haden and think top 5 CB. That hasn't been the case in awhile and that sure as hell was not the case last week. Amari Cooper torched him.

Above isn't even about speed.

This is just shoddy tackling. As a unit, per PFF, the Browns have missed 19(!) tackles this season.

Back to Haden, Cooper caught all 6 of his targets for 87 yards against Haden. Cooper is on another planet when comparing his speed to Keenan Allen, but Allen has the route running ability to shake free from Haden early in the route and the size to hold him off in the event Haden catches up. Donte Whitner is another liability waiting to be taken advantage of that the Chargers have to find a way to get him in coverage. Hopefully against Stevie Johnson. If he plays Free Safety like he did last week, we could see another deep strike to Malcom Floyd if Rivers can manipulate Jordan Poyer.

The Browns certainly don't lack talent in the secondary. Tashaun Gipson is one of the better, more aggressive playmaking safeties in the NFL and Tramon Williams seems to be playing well early on in the year. That said, this should be where the Chargers have a clear advantage and need to rely on their weapons. Advantage: Chargers.

Staff Predictions

Kyle

Most of the advantages the Chargers have are neutralized with injuries up front. The Browns as a team have been inconsistent. The Chargers as a team just haven't been very good. I won't be surprised at all if the Browns win the game and don't fault anyone who thinks that. I just don't see the Browns moving the ball consistently and I see McCown making a costly mistake. Chargers 17-13.

SDNativeinTX

With the entire left side of the line being substitutes and the guys on the right side being banged up, the Chargers never really get on track offensively.  The defense plays OK (or does the Browns offense play badly?) and the game turns into a nearly unwatchable punting duel.  Browns 16, Chargers 9Daniel Szalma: With a banged up offensive line that has struggled to protect Philip Rivers, the Chargers finally commit to budding star running back Melvin Gordon and control the time of possession, which in turn opens up opportunities for the defense to make plays. Chargers 27, Browns 13.

Matthew Stanley

The offensive line is going to be an unknown going into the game, but it wont be great, so the offense won't shine. The Browns offense is still figuring things out so they won't do great either. It's going to be a punt-fest but the Chargers squeak out a sloppy win 13 - 9

Ruben Gonzalez

The Chargers have a chip on their shoulder. So they enter this game with a Garrett Sisti-like furor and finally get back in the win column. Philip Rivers makes a speech on Saturday and it's enough to fire up the team. Quick pass here, quick pass there. Melvin Gordon on a tear. Chargers win 10-6. Hey, I didn't say it was gonna be pretty.

Jordan Lee

The offensive line is banged up, the defense can't tackle and Philip (like so many of you) is angry. Luckily the Browns are coming to town. And while the Chargers don't sort out all of their issues in their second home game, they look better for 60 minutes on Sunday than they have for 80 percent of the season. I know that isn't saying much, but it is enough for a win.  Chargers 24 Browns 10

Daniel Stebbins

This game isn't going to be pretty, let's get that out of the way. With the trenches being the weakest group on both sides of the ball the struggle will be real. Think 17 will do enough to squeak out a win. Also, Gordon gets over 75 rushing yards but will fall short of 100, gets first TD. 17-13 SD wins.

Garrett Sisti

Crowell & Johnson rack up almost 100 yards on the ground but McCown can't get going which should be a surprise to no one. Melvin Gordon gets his first TD because I was wrong about it last week and I will keep saying it until I'm right. Chargers lose another first quarter but don't lose the game final score 20-13.

Gennarro

Chargers defense scores at least one touchdown and San Diego squeaks out an ugly-ish win over a pathetic Browns offense.

Jeff

The Chargers defense finally notches some pressure induced turnovers and sacks against QB Josh McCown. On offense, the Chargers do a better-ish job eventually of playing with tempo and getting the ball to the perimeter after the usual slow-going attempting to establish a power run game. Johnny Manziel enters the game late and makes an otherwise ugly game look better with a garbage-time score. SD 20-16.

Richard

Chargers are lucky to be up against a weak Browns team while banged up and they salvage a win at home. SD 24 - 17 CLE

Jamie Hoyle

The Chargers should throw caution to the wind in this one and attack a banged up Cleveland secondary, but they won't.  A patchwork offensive line and another ultra-conservative game plan bog this one down as the Bolts waste a multi-sack performance from the defense and lose a closely contested defensive battle.  Browns 17, Chargers 13.