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Three-Down Back: A trio of things to watch for against the Cleveland Browns

All the swag dripping off of Mayfield onto the field might make for some sloppy conditions during Sunday’s contest.

Baltimore Ravens v Cleveland Browns Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It’s been almost two years since that fateful game against the Cleveland Browns during the 2016 season.

It was a beautiful, snowy Christmas Eve, and although the Chargers weren’t in the midst having that good of a season, the game against the Browns felt like a nice early Christmas present that fans would be able to enjoy as they got into bed that night to wait for jolly ol’ Santa Claus to arrive.

However, this was not meant to be.

The Chargers lost to a Browns squad headlined by quarterback Robert Griffin III and hadn’t won a game all season. As time went on, the abysmal clouds of shame that hung over that contest only grew and grew as Cleveland continued to lose game after game, ultimately losing the rest of their match-ups in 2016 and going 0-16 through the entire 2017 season.

The media didn’t do any favors, either, when it came to helping Chargers fans forget that loss. Whenever the Browns faced a match-up deemed “winnable”, the network would always throw things back to the last time the Browns had one a game and, of course, the fan base was revisited by scenes Josh Lambo’s missed game-tying field goal as the Bolts dropped a 17-20 heart-breaker in Cleveland.

And yes, the team beat the Browns a year ago to help get rid of whatever sour taste was left in their mouths but that was a completely different team led by a rookie quarterback that couldn’t sniff the jock-strap of Baker Mayfield coming out of college. In fact, that game was also too close for comfort and had one or two moments where it looked like things could have gone south in a hurry.

Enter the 2018 Browns, headline by the aformentioned Mayfield, WR Jarvis Landry, and a ferocious young defense led by former 2017 number one overall selection DE Myles Garrett (5 sacks), CB Denzel Ward (3 picks), and underrated DT Larry Ogunjobi.

This ain’t the same Browns team that the NFL is used to seeing. This is a real team. A team that is a few missed kicks away from possibly being 4-1 or even 5-0. If the Chargers don’t show up with the correct mindset, it could spell disaster as the team looks to stack a string of wins together before the bye.

1.) If offensive tackles Russell Okung and Joe Barksdale are unable to go once again, how will Sam Tevi and Trent Scott handle a very disruptive Browns front seven?

There was an air of anxiety heading into the match-up with the Oakland Raiders this past Sunday when the team was forced to deploy back-ups at both tackle positions. In replace of Russell Okung, last year’s sixth-round pick Sam Tevi got the nod after have spent most of the season at right tackle while Barksdale has missed extended time. Since Tevi needed to swap sides, the only man left to fill-in at tackle was rookie UDFA Trent Scott out of small-time HBCU Grambling State.

Fortunately for Tevi and Scott, the Raiders had one of the worst defenses in the league going into the game and only managed a single sack from veteran OLB Bruce Irvin. It was a good first outing for the young duo but the Browns defense is light-years ahead in athletic talent, youth, and versatility.

Thank goodness number 17 has been light’s out when it comes to getting the ball out under pressure.

2.) If Michael Badgley gets the nod at kicker this week and puts together a flawless performance, should we be calling for a permanent change?

Caleb Sturgis’ quad injury seemed to come up out of nowhere this week and spurred the team to sign another kicker in order to have a “security blanket” in case he is unable to trot out there on Sunday.

The newly signed Badgley is a rookie kicker out of the University of Miami who was graded as the sixth-highest kicker in the ACC by Pro Football Focus during his senior season. He won the starting position at Miami as a true freshmen and has a career FG percentage of 79.4 percent as he connected on 77 of 97 kicks with a career-long of 57.

His long of 57 is great to see as it seems like the Chargers haven’t had a kicker with that type of leg in some time but the most eye-popping stat to me is that he converted 24 of 26 kicks between 40-49 yards while in college. If you guys haven’t noticed yet, the team hasn’t trusted Sturgis to attempt many kicks in the upper-40’s and someone as accurate as Badgley in that area could fix a handful of things in this special teams unit.

3.) Can the defense take advantage of the inexperience among the Browns offense that includes rookies Baker Mayfield, LT Desmond Harrison, and WRs Antonio Callaway and Derrick Willies?

Through the last three games, Mayfield has completed 63 of 107 passes for 838 yards and three touchdowns to three interceptions. His presence for the Browns has been a visible difference-maker for the team as the Browns have won two games in a season for the first time since 2015.

The current heir-apparent to Joe Thomas at the left tackle spot has been the athletic Harrison who spent last season playing at West Georgia after spending time away from game following a dismissal from the University of Texas a few years back.

Harrison is a lean and mean tackle standing at 6-foot-7 and just a hair under 300 pounds. He has done a pretty fair job up to this point for the Browns but he will likely get a fair dose of Melvin Ingram on Sunday as Gus Bradley will look to exploit any potential holes in that front five.

Callaway and Willies are probably two names that you haven’t heard much of, especially the latter. Callaway was a standout at the University of Florida prior to being suspended for his entire 2017 season due to some off-field issues. However, he matched up with current-Charger Desmond King in the 2017 Outback Bowl and found quite a bit of success.

Willies, on the other hand, was an undrafted free agent of the Browns this season who split his college career between the University of Iowa and Texas Tech. He hadn’t been a factor at all for the Browns until their most recent game against the Ravens where he snagged three passes for 61 yards with a long of 39. Willies measures in at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, which is eerily similar to a former UDFA that the Chargers picked up a handful of years back....

At the end of the day, the Browns have as much young and exciting talent as any other team in the league right now. If the Chargers fail to take these youngsters seriously, get ready for another let-down in the Dawg Pound.