A shock to the system – Cleveland Browns vs. Los Angeles Chargers preview and what to watch for

This is the point in the season where things get tough for Cleveland. With the defense reeling, it could be a bloody Sunday for the Browns.

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Last week's game between the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons was frustrating if you root for the orange and brown. The Browns needed to win this game to keep their swagger going after a dominant performance the week prior. Instead, Cleveland looked lackluster on offense and their defense is continuing to fall apart at the seams.

Going into this game, Cleveland ranked seventh against the run and had Atlanta bogged down the entire first half with just 21-yards on the ground for the Falcons. Halfway through the third quarter, the levee broke and suddenly the Browns' front seven could not stop the Falcons from running for good yardage. After a Cade York field goal to go ahead 13-10 in the second quarter, Atlanta began at their own 25 and had a 10-play 75-yard drive that used up 5:15 of the clock before scoring a touchdown. Every play was a run of some kind with nine of them resulting in five yards or more. Woof.

Again, the Browns needed to win this game because they're now at the point in their schedule where things get a bit more electric. This Sunday, they host Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers at First Energy Stadium. While the Chargers have a good chance of shocking Cleveland's defense, this game is still winnable. All it takes is batting down the bolts using their biggest strength: their running game.

Today, Right Down Euclid will be breaking down what to watch for in Sunday's game between Cleveland and Los Angeles.

Browns vs Chargers odds, moneyline, over/under and more

All odds were provided by FanDuel Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of Right Down Euclid.

Featured image credit: John McCoy/Getty Images

What to watch for

Continuing the offensive harmony

Despite not throwing the ball for over 200 yards a game, on average, Cleveland’s offense is tied with the pass-happy Kansas City Chiefs for the fourth most yards in the NFL through four weeks. At their core, the Browns are a team that wants to run the football and dominate in the trenches. They arguably employ the best running back in the NFL in Nick Chubb and his complement Kareem Hunt isn’t too shabby either.

“Even though they are different, I would say they are probably the same," Chargers defensive end Sebastian Joseph-Day said of the two rushers. "They are both just very elite. Good in open space, good at making the right cuts, good at breaking tackles. Really just a one-two punch and they are both starting running backs, right? They’re both elite, that’s all I have to say.”

Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett should be able to keep the Los Angeles defense honest and not stack the box against them. But, throughout the day, Cleveland will have to lean on their running game like they tend to do.

Thankfully, the Chargers may make things a bit easier for the Browns. Through the early goings, the Chargers sit 14th in the NFL in stopping the run, allowing an average of 109 yards per game. However, they've fallen victim to one big run per game blowing open their run-stopping total.

Los Angeles has allowed a 50-plus-yard run in each of the last three games. Last week, Houston Texans running back Dameon Pierce ripped off a 75-yard rushing attempt for a touchdown. The Browns can build momentum if one of Chubb or Hunt is able to do the same.

Stefanski under scrutiny

It’s fair to question some of the decisions Browns coach Kevin Stefanski has been making as of late. His play-calling decisions, especially on fourth down, have many scratching their heads. Not only that but, the continued issues with blown coverages and special teams boners are hamstringing Cleveland's production more often than not.

Granted, a lot of that falls on the shoulders of defensive coordinator Joe Woods and special teams coach Mike Priefer. But, ultimately, Stefanski is the one who decided to hire both of them due to their deep bond of coaching together. That means that as long as Woods and Priefer continue to struggle, it could ultimately cost Stefanski, one of the best coaches the team has had in years, his job.

Thankfully, it's not all bad under Stefanski at the helm. The Browns boast the league’s second-best rushing attack, fourth-best offense and were tied for sixth in scoring under him. With better execution, the Browns relax the concerns surrounding Stefanski. But if the same issues continue to surface week after week, and the schedule gets harder, his seat could start warming up.

Kevin Stefanski has been great as head coach for the Browns. He's arguably the best coach they've had since their return in 1999. But, his coordinators could lead to his downfall. Photo credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The availability of Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney

Sure, Cleveland hasn't been good on defense this season. But, in their loss to the Falcons they were missing two key pieces in Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. Garrett was out due to suffering a scary automobile accident. Clowney, meanwhile, has been dealing with a nagging right mid-ankle sprain.

It seems like all signs point to Garrett playing this Sunday against the Chargers. But, it's unsure if Clowney will join him and the rest of the Browns on defense. He said after practice on Thursday that he's hoping he can play, but, he wants to make sure he's 100% before getting back out there.

Clowney acknowledged that, “it would be great to have the whole front back. Any time you’re going against a passing team, that’s what D-linemen dream of, rushing the passer and getting after the quarterback. We’re trying to get healthy as a group up front and the whole team and get ready to go.’’

Cleveland needs a little thunder and lightning in their pass rush against Justin Herbert and the high-octane Los Angeles passing attack. They'll have some of it with Garrett. But, without Clowney, it doesn't give the Browns nearly enough pressure. If Clowney does play, it could change the shape of this game considerably.

Final prediction

If the Browns get their running game going early in this one against the Chargers, it should remain close. Cleveland needs to control the clock and, more importantly, not beat themselves on defense and special teams. It's going to be a tough game no matter what for the Browns and it'll serve as a tone setter for the upcoming stretch. If they lose, it could be time to settle in for another long season of wasted potential.

Final score: Browns 24, Chargers 20

Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at evan@downeuclid.com. He can also be found three to five times a week on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.

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