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Chargers vs. Browns Preview: 3 things to watch for in Week 5

Either team’s ground game could be the difference in this week’s matchup amongst AFC teams fighting to sustain contender status.

Los Angeles Chargers v Houston Texans Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

DraftKings Sportsbook has the 2-2 Chargers as 2.5-point favorites over the 2-2 Browns this week as both teams attempt to stay in the win column and avoid dropping below .500 on the season. Neither of these teams are currently seen as the “cream of the crop” in the AFC and a win on Sunday would certainly help either of their cases.

With that said, below are three things I’ll be watching closely when the Bolts finally take the field in Cleveland.

1.) Chargers run game faces another ideal matchup

Against the 32nd-ranked run defense, the Chargers running backs managed to rush for just 86 yards on 23 carries, but Austin Ekeler did manage to score a pair of touchdowns. Specifically, Ekeler averaged 4.6 yards per carry on 13 totes for 60 yards. That’s a much more normal day at the office for him as he also posted 49 additional receiving yards on six catches.

Conveniently, the Chargers are drawing another weaker defensive opponent in week five. The Browns currently rank 30th in DVOA by Football Outsiders and 28th in EPA. As just a run defense, they also rank near the bottom at 30th in that category. Those ranks are pretty bad and, if you check out the tweet below, you’ll see that they haven’t necessarily played an above-average offense just yet in 2022.

Now in raw stats, the Browns are 16th in rushing yards allowed at 113.3. At the same time, they allow 4.6 yards per attempt and have given up six touchdowns. I’m not saying this is all enough for another big game by Ekeler, but the matchup looks a lot more favorable the deeper you dig into it.

Edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney was a non-participant on Wednesday while edge rusher Myles Garrett and defensive tackle Taven Bryan were both limited. If any of those three miss this week’s game, that only furthers the potential for the Chargers to find a groove on the ground.

2.) Limiting Nick Chubb will go a long way in leaving Cleveland with a victory

Nick Chubb is currently second in the NFL in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns with 459 and five, respectively. He also gets to run behind one of the best offensive lines in football which is likely going to be the Chargers’ biggest matchups of the game.

For some added context, here are the PFF run blocking grades for their offensive line as of this week:

LT Jedrick Wills Jr. - 59.9
LG Joel Bitonio - 72.7
C Ethan Pocic - 68.0
RG Wyatt Teller - 83.8
RT James Hudson - 78.8

Now let’s compare that to the run defense grades of the players who will see time along the front line of the Chargers:

EDGE Khalil Mack - 85.4
DT Sebastian Joseph-Day - 57.2
DT Austin Johnson - 77.0
DT Morgan Fox - 43.7
DT Jerry Tillery - 63.2
EDGE Chris Rumph - 49.2
LB Kyle Van Noy - 62.9

As you can probably tell, the Browns offensive line seems to have the edge here while also being the healthier unit. Chubb has been incredibly efficient when running outside the tackles which means the defense will have to be hyper-vigilant when it comes to setting the edges and forcing plays back inside. An area of concern here could easily be the Browns running it away from Mack straight into the faces of either Rumph or Van Noy so you have to hope Brandon Staley is able to conjure up support for those guys as I cannot see either holding up well all game long.

But in all, the Chargers have been fairly stout against the run. Their three biggest runs allowed over the past three weeks total 177 yards which accounts for 40 percent of the production against them. That’s absurd. And while reality doesn’t simply allow you to make those yards disappear, it does allow us to be much more confident in this unit than we’d otherwise allow ourselves to be if they were being gashed left and right game after game.

But a couple bad angles from our safeties? That’s just how the dice rolls sometimes.

3.) How will Josh Palmer’s ankle injury affect the passing game should he sit out Sunday?

Palmer didn’t play for the majority of the game against the Texans due to an ankle injury he sustained early on. That injury landed him on this week’s injury report as he was a limited participant on Wednesday. Knowing how cautious this team can be when trying to work their best players back into the lineup, I think we have to acknowledge there’s a decent chance he doesn’t suit up against the Browns.

In the wake of his injury, the team signed former Raiders wideout Keelan Doss to the practice squad. If Palmer isn’t able to go, the Bolts would likely roll into Cleveland with Mike Williams, DeAndre Carter, Jason Moore, and Michael Bandy as their receivers with Doss possibly earning a game day elevation. A reality like this would become more convenient if Donald Parham would return, but until he finally gets the full green light, I’m not counting on it.

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See for details.