What type of defensive looks should we expect to see from the Browns? Do they play zone and try to get pressure with their defensive front, or are they more inclined to bring pressure with blitzes?
The Browns trust their cornerbacks to play one-on-one press coverage, with the belief that they are skilled enough to cover for a good period of time while the defensive front generates pressure. Due to the struggles in defending the run, it seems like the team has been utilizing strong safety Donte Whitner a little more often near the line of scrimmage (which has not paid off due to him missing tackles or being out of position on big runs). Free safety Tashaun Gipson is playing center field, an area that quarterbacks haven't targeted.
If the Browns sense pre-game that they can get pressure, they'll send blitzes from their linebackers and nickelback in a lot of third down passing situations. If the opposing quarterback has a quick release, though, our defensive coordinator seems to dial down the number of blitz attempts. Given the Chargers' depleted offensive line, I expect Cleveland the same type of intense pressure they brought in Week 2 against the Titans, when they had seven sacks. The struggles in Weeks 1 and 3 came about because of a lack of coverage and Joe Haden struggling to win his one-on-one battles to begin the year.
The Browns RBs are talented but haven't really gotten a chance to get going. Teams have had success against the Chargers running the ball or getting them in space. What's been the reason for the slow start for the Browns running game and is this the breakout performance week?
Prior to center Alex Mack suffering a broken leg near the beginning of the 2014 season, Cleveland's running game was piling up the yardage against other teams. After his departure, the run blocking completely fell apart for the rest of the season. With Mack returning for 2015, there was some optimism that the run blocking would be back to where it was at the beginning of 2014, but it hasn't worked out that way. One of the biggest reasons is the sophomore slump of starting left guard Joel Bitonio, who was a rookie of the year candidate in 2014. Our tight ends have allowed too many defenders to penetrate into the backfield. Also, I don't think Isaiah Crowell should be a starting running back in the NFL. His vision isn't the greatest and he gets tripped up upon the first bit of contact too much. He is best when he gets a head of steam through a large gap, but who isn't? I don't think we'll see a breakout performance this week for the Browns' running backs, Crowell and rookie Duke Johnson could combine for a little over 100 yards of rushing.
Do you think we should expect to see Johnny Manziel at all this week if Josh McCown struggles early? Which quarterback do you think offers the best chance of success for the Browns against the Chargers?
If Josh McCown struggles, I think we have even lesser of a chance of seeing Johnny Manziel, as crazy as that may sound. McCown is firmly entrenched as the team's starting quarterback, so he his leash is not so short that he'd be pulled for a poor half. However, it's not out of the realm that Johnny Manziel sees a snap during the first half just to throw another wrinkle at the Chargers' defense, or to set something up for the second half if Cleveland is still within a possession. Manziel is trending upward, but I think McCown does offer the best chance of beating the Chargers because he took all of the offseason reps with the first-team offense and Manziel still has significant ball security issues whenever the defense sacks him.
There has been a lot of national talk this week about CB Joe Hadenís coverage (or lack thereof) of rookie WR Amari Cooper and his rib injury. Do you think Haden bounces back against another precision route runner in Kennan Allen or is Haden going to be in for another tough day?
Haden has developed a very weird trend over the past couple of seasons where he does not look good at all for the first month or two of the season, but then he looks like a shutdown corner for the remainder of the year. It's true that Haden hasn't had the best technique when he's been beaten by the likes of Brandon Marshall and Amari Cooper this season, but he's also a cornerback who has done that type of stuff in the past and gotten away with it. One of these weeks, the light will click for Haden, and he'll go back to "Pro Bowl mode." I wish I could tell you when that is, but if it happens, you'll know it early in the game when he starts knocking down passes.
Is there a valid reason that the Browns aren't traveling to San Diego until Saturday?
I haven't paid much attention to when teams travel in the past, but it doesn't seem unusual to me given that the Browns' regular practice schedule at their facility is Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Browns head coach Mike Pettine did weigh in on the decision.
Getting to know the Cleveland Browns: Five Questions with Dawgs By Nature
Chris Porknoy, Executive Editor over at Dawgs by Nature, SB Nation's Cleveland Browns blog, stops by Bolts from the Blue to answer five questions we have about the Cleveland Browns.