The Chargers survived and outlasted a gritty and gutsy effort by the Browns on Sunday as they escaped with a narrow 30-28 victory that all but came down to a missed 54-yard field goal by kicker Cade York.
A victory like this is sure to be overshadowed a bit by Brandon Staley’s eye-opening fourth-down decision, and that’s understandable, but at the end of the day the Chargers are 3-2 and are just one game behind the Chiefs at second place in the AFC West. They’ve got games against the Broncos (2-3) and Seahawks (2-3) before heading into their bye week. if they can enter the break at 5-2, this team’s season will have turned around in a big way since suffering that embarrassing loss to the Jaguars in week three.
Let’s go ahead and take a look at the this week’s players who either saw their stock rise or fall in this week’s game against the Browns.
RB Austin Ekeler
One week after recording three touchdowns in one game, Ekeler somehow topped that performance with the highest rushing total of his career against the Browns where he rushed for an astonishing 173 yards on just 16 carries. He also found the end zone on the ground and through the air which brought his touchdown total to five over the past two games.
Ekeler is now averaging a very healthy 5.1 yards per carry and is currently tied for sixth in big-time runs and rushing touchdowns with three and three, respectively. If the Chargers offensive line can sustain even half of this level of production through the remainder of the season, they’ll start to look like the team we expected to see coming out of the gates this year.
This is one of my favorite @AustinEkeler runs. Shows you everything you need right here: pic.twitter.com/cjOURFEBCm— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) October 10, 2022
S Alohi Gilman
When the Chargers needed a big defensive play the most on Sunday afternoon, they got it in the form of an end zone interception by Gilman who was starting his first game of the 2022 season in place of a benched Nasir Adderley.
With the Chargers nursing a one-point lead late in the fourth quarter, and Browns threatening near the goal-line following a questionable roughing the passer penalty, Brissett attempted to escape the pocket before attempting an ill-advised pass back across his body. Gilman waited patiently in the passing window before leaping high and making a fantastic, twisting grab.
Like most of the defense, Gilman struggled as a tackler and was one of several Chargers to miss multiple tackle attempts, but he got the last laugh against the Browns defense by shutting down one of their last opportunities to take the lead back.
Second career interception for #Hawaii’s Alohi Gilman who helped secure #Chargers victory in Cleveland with the late game red zone pick #NFLHawaii @alohigilman @KahukuSports #RR4L pic.twitter.com/6aZwIRNJrx— Rob DeMello (@RobDeMelloKHON) October 9, 2022
CB J.C. Jackson
I feel a bit like a broken record at this point.
For his third-straight game played since joining the Chargers, Jackson allowed a big play in coverage that directly affected the course of the game. On the Browns second offensive drive of the game, Jackson got beat soundly by Amari Cooper in the end zone for a touchdown that put the Browns up 14-0 early in the first quarter. He ended the day allowing five receptions on nine passes thrown his way for a game-high 58 yards. On the season, he’s allowed 15 completions on 20 targets for a combined 245 yards and two touchdowns.
Through three games, Jackson holds a 35.7 overall season grade from Pro Football Focus. That is the second-worst grade on the entire defense behind only Kenneth Murray Jr. (34.6). Jackson’s season coverage grade of 32.1 is by far the worst on the team with the next closest coming from Gilman with a 46.9.
When any defense faces Nick Chubb, they’re tackling ability is about to be in for their toughest test of the entire season. That was no different for the Chargers on Sunday.
Chubb finished the game with 134 yards rushing and two touchdowns. His first score came on the opening drive in which he bounced off a number of Chargers defenders en route to a dazzling 41-yard touchdown.
Seven different Chargers finished with a run defense grade below 50.0. The worst grade by a good bit was Kenneth Murray’s 26.3 followed by Drue Tranquill’s 39.8. The interior of Cleveland’s line is arguably the best in the NFL so I cannot say I’m surprised that three of the Chargers’ top-four defensive tackles were among those seven porous grades.
The Chargers missed 10 total tackles on the day with three players record multiple misses. They were Khalil Mack, Christian Covington, and Sebastian Joseph-Day. Not a good thing when two of those players are your captains. Six total players finished with tackling grades below 41.0, further accentuating just how tough of time the front seven was having trying to bring down both Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
This defense should have much easier matchups throughout the remainder of the season, so there’s a positive, but that only means so much until they actually get out there and show us they’re capable of improving to the point they need to.