Breaking down how the Chargers (2-2) and the Cleveland Browns (2-2) match up heading into their game at 10 a.m. PDT on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium. The game will be shown on CBS and streamed on Paramount+ and NFL+.
When Chargers have the ball: Quarterback Justin Herbert looked decidedly more comfortable and confident last weekend in his second game playing with fractured rib cartilage, an injury that is expected to linger for weeks. This was an encouraging sign as the Chargers beat overmatched Houston 34-24. Also encouraging has been Herbert’s recent showing on the road — encouraging and perhaps historic. He has passed for at least 300 yards in seven consecutive road games, one short of the NFL record set in the early 2000s by Rich Gannon. “I just think he is a very mentally strong guy that doesn’t let all of the outside noise get to him,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. “ … For his age and experience level, he does a good job handling all of the silent cadences and communicating with guys in a loud environment.” Cleveland ranks 13th against the pass and has talent in the secondary, along with elite edge rusher Myles Garrett, who is returning from injury. But the Browns also have had breakdowns in the back end of their defense and so far have faced quarterbacks Baker Mayfield, Joe Flacco, Mitch Trubisky and Marcus Mariota. This will be a step up in class. Eluding Garrett will be a key for Herbert, who entered Week 5 leading the league with 1,250 yards passing.
When Browns have the ball: The Chargers have allowed a rush of at least 50 yards three games in a row, something that hasn’t happened in the NFL since 2009. Though the streak is probably more part-time fluke than full-time concern, this might not be the best week to end it. Cleveland features Nick Chubb, who ran for 161 yards against the Chargers last October and began this week second in the NFL in rushing. The Browns also have Kareem Hunt, who produced two games of 150-plus yards against the Chargers when he was with Kansas City. “We got to do a great job of leveraging the ball at all levels,” defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill said. “Some of those balls that they do pop, we’re hoping we can get it down for eight yards and not let it be a home run.” Someone to watch for the Chargers is safety Nasir Adderley, who has struggled at times this season, particularly with the angles he has taken on running plays. At least twice, Adderley also has been out of position on touchdown passes. “He’s doing a lot of the quarterbacking back there,” Hill said. “… I think that he’s pressing a little bit and isn’t seeing the full picture. He just has to make sure that he’s focused on his job first, then being able to distribute everybody else’s responsibilities.”
When they kick: The Chargers’ Dustin Hopkins has been dealing with a quadriceps injury and is questionable for this game. If he can’t kick, the Chargers will use Taylor Bertolet, who was signed to their practice squad Thursday. Browns’ rookie Cade York has made all eight of his field-goal attempts and is nine of 11 on extra points.
Jeff Miller’s prediction: Herbert’s health has everything to do with the Chargers’ fortunes right now. He looks to be improving and threw every day in practice in the lead-up to this game. If he stays healthy Sunday, the Chargers should be fine.
CHARGERS 31, BROWNS 23