Here are five keys to the game heading into the Week 6 match between the Chargers and the Browns.
1. Protect the Rock! – The Bolts have been among the best in the league when it comes to ball security. Philip Rivers has thrown only two interceptions while the rest of the team has lost only three fumbles. The team's five total giveaways is the fourth-lowest mark in the league. However, that security will be put to the test this week against the NFL's most opportunistic defense. The Browns have the most takeaways in the league through five weeks with 15, which is four more than the next closest team. Cleveland has done it both ways, recording eight interceptions and an NFL-leading seven forced fumbles. Head Coach Anthony Lynn is obviously pleased with the way his offense has protected the ball thus far, but knows this week will be the toughest challenge yet:
"We haven't given it away, so we have to keep doing what we're doing. That speaks to your toughness, the toughness of the football team when we go (out) there. How we protect in the crowd. How we hold up. How we respond. They're going to make some plays, but we've taken care of the football."
2. Slow the Three-Headed Monster – Running backs like Melvin Gordon, Saquon Barkley, Todd Gurley and others capture most of the headlines, but Carlos Hyde has been as dangerous as any running back in the league thus far. The veteran has made his mark in his first season with the Browns, emerging as their true workhorse. In fact, his 100 carries are the second-most in the league. Hyde has also run for 348 yards and five touchdowns, which is also the second-most in the NFL. However, the Browns have also relied on Duke Johnson and Nick Chubb as well, forming a talented backfield that Lynn dubbed a three-headed monster. Johnson has carried the ball 17 times for 75 yards (4.4 ypc) while catching 13 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, the rookie Chubb has toted the rock 13 times for 148 yards (11.4 ypc) and two touchdowns. Thus, Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley was quick to point out how the dynamic ground game is clicking for the Browns:
"You really should start with their running game. They've got three really good backs. They're number one in rushing attempts in the league, second in the league in rushing. Different styles, too — big backs, quick backs. You can tell it's a team that's playing with lots of confidence right now and they're executing pretty well."
3. Get Baker on his Back – There are a ton of ways Baker Mayfield carves up a defense. You can force him to stay in the pocket, in which case he'll pick apart your secondary when given the time. Or you can flush him out, where he can extend plays with his legs before firing downfield or running it himself. So, you can understand why when asked about where he prefers to see Mayfield, Lynn deadpanned the following:
"I want him on his back… He's a hard guy to contain. When he gets out of the pocket, he can move the ball with his legs. He throws accurately on the move. That's when he's most dangerous to be honest with you."
The first overall pick in this year's draft has brought an infectious attitude and confidence to the Browns from the moment he took over midway through their Week 3 win over the New York Jets. Bradley knows the Bolts are in for a challenge as he was effusive in his praise for the passer:
"The first thing that jumps out at you is just the tale of how they're executing. Now with Baker in there at quarterback, it just seems like a team that plays with a lot of confidence. They're confident, he's obviously got some traits where he can extend plays…(He's aggressive). They'll take shots down field, but big plays, if he is out of the pocket (he) is poised. He'll wait. He has enough poise. If he does get out of the pocket, he still keeps his eyes down field. It's not like he'll take off and run. He has at times, but he's more looking down field to try to make a big play, not maybe yardage as much, but convert on a third down or situations like that."
4. Take to the Air – The Bolts must be wary about the Browns' ferocious pass rush, led by Myles Garrett who already has five sacks on the year. They also must be mindful of cornerback Denzel Ward as this year's fourth-overall pick leads the NFL with three interceptions. Still, the Chargers will look to do damage through the air against a Cleveland defense that gives up the sixth-most yards through the air (281.4 ypg). Still, the Bolts can't get too comfortable despite teams having success passing against the Browns. After all, Rivers knows firsthand just how good the talent is on the other side of the ball, stressing that they are still a team on the rise:
"I just remember last year leaving the game thinking it was a heck of a group, really. They're even healthier than they were then, and they've added some pieces. I think the biggest thing that stands out is that they're taking the ball away. I think they're leading the league in the differential, and it's a good defense. They're playing well. Obviously, I think the longer they're in that scheme together with (Browns Defensive Coordinator) Gregg Williams, the better they're going to be because he's multiple and does a ton of different things. Never lets you get comfortable. If you keep a group together defensively, then the better and better they're going to get at doing it and that's what's showing up this year. They're a few plays away here and there from having won them all this year. They probably feel they should have and they've certainly had an opportunity to win them all, so it will be a heck of a challenge for us."
5. Weather the Environment – This figures to be the best weather for the Chargers in Cleveland in quite some time as the last few appearances included freezing temperatures, torrential downpours, snow … and sometimes all of those things at once. While it will be in the mid-50s outside, the team also must weather a tough environment as the Browns have some of the most rabid fans in the game. Just take a listen to what Rivers had to say about them:
"It's kind of the old-school NFL. There and Kansas City — there are a handful of places that still have that old school NFL feel to it. Obviously, the energy that they'll have this week, you know, with the start they've gotten off to, it will be a heck of a challenge for both the team and the crowd. The noise, and you're always dealing, you never know in Cleveland, with the weather. So, we'll have our work cut out for us, for sure."
Browse through the top practice photos as the Chargers get ready to face the Browns in Week 6.