The Chargers travel to Cleveland, looking to take care of business against the Browns and extend their record beyond .500.
Here are five storylines to watch for Sunday’s matchup.
The Browns have been one of the most efficient rushing teams in the NFL. Nick Chubb is tied for second in the league in rushing yards (459), yards per game (114.8), and touchdowns (5). Kareem Hunt hasn’t found the end zone since Week 1 but averages 4.3 yards per carry.
The Chargers allow an average of 109.8 rushing yards per game, ranking 14th in the league. However, they have allowed a carry of at least 50 yards in the last three games. Chubb has 15 explosive runs (runs over 10 yards).
Los Angeles has done a good job minimizing the run between the tackles with its offseason additions – Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson, and Otito Ogbonnia. But it has allowed the damage outside the tackles, where Chubb is most dangerous.
Not having Joey Bosa, one of the team’s best run defenders, is a big deal. Therefore, it is imperative that Chris Rumph II and Kyle Van Noy set firm edges and the second and third levels of the defense take proper angles and wrap up, or else it could be a long day.
Run, baby, run
The Chargers struggled to run the ball in the first three games, resulting in the worst team in that department. However, they broke the mold last weekend against the Texans as Austin Ekeler found the end zone three times, two of which were on the ground.
Heading into this weekend, Los Angeles could be primed to have success running the ball again as the Browns’ defense falls 30th in run defense DVOA. In addition, Cleveland is tied for the third-most rushing touchdowns allowed (6). A big factor in this issue is the lack of stoutness along the defensive line.
Another trend to follow is who will get more carries. While Ekeler will lead the backfield in touches, Joshua Kelley has been the more efficient runner between him and Sony Michel but is still getting fewer snaps. Kelley averages 4.2 yards per carry, while Michel averages just 2.6 YPC.
Building off heck of a debut
After Rashawn Slater ruptured his biceps, the Chargers turned to sixth-round pick Jamaree Salyer to fill his shoes, even after it appeared Salyer was making a full-time transition to guard, having played there throughout camp and preseason.
Nevertheless, as someone who mainly played left tackle at a high level in his final two collegiate seasons at Georgia, Salyer looked at home in his regular-season debut as a pro against the Texans. He did not allow a single pressure in 41 pass-blocking snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
While they did scheme to help him – chips from running backs and tight ends, moving pockets, and quick throws, Salyer held rushers at bay in pass protection, displaying great body control, balance, and strength in addition to sealing blocks and getting out in space in the run game.
This weekend, Salyer will draw maybe his toughest task of the year in Myles Garrett. Garrett, the three-time Pro Bowl defensive end, is returning after he suffered a shoulder sprain and biceps strain in a car accident last week. He had 15 pressures and three sacks in the first three games of the season.
It looks like the Chargers will get Donald Parham back this weekend, marking his first game of the season. Parham has been out since the beginning of training camp after he injured his hamstring during one of their practices.
Parham’s last game came in Week 15 after suffering what could’ve been a career-ending injury when making a diving catch in the back of the end zone that caused him to be taken on a gurney. Before getting hurt in camp, Parham looked like one of the best players out there.
Parham finished the 2021 season with 20 catches on 27 targets for 190 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games.
Having Parham on the field is huge for the offense. Not only is he a threat as a receiver with his long 6-foot-8 frame to threaten the seams and box out defenders in the red zone, but he is a difference-maker on the edge to seal blocks in the run game.
Keeping the foot on the gas
In each of the Chargers’ games, it’s been a tale of two stories. They have looked good in the first half and have struggled in the second half, as evidenced last weekend as Los Angeles allowed the Texans to cut a 20-point halftime deficit to three points in the fourth quarter.
L.A. is 31st in the NFL in opponent’s second-half points per game (18.8). However, the third quarter is when the most damage is being done. The Chargers have allowed 39 third-quarter points this season, the second-worst. Offensively, they are 25th in second-half points per game (7.8).
The Bolts have to minimize the number of times the Browns have the ball because they lead the league in average time of possession (35:38).
“We definitely need to take control when we make those adjustments in the second half, making sure that we take them to the field, making sure that we execute,” Brandon Staley said.