For the first time since 2014, the Cleveland Browns are looking to win consecutive ball games. The last time the Chargers came to FirstEnergy Stadium, the Browns won on a miracle. This time around, what are some things to watch for against the Chargers?
1. Who’s Baker Mayfield’s “safety net” receiver?
Mayfield will be without two of his reliable receivers against the Chargers. Rashard Higgins (knee) and Derek Willies (collarbone) have both grew with Mayfield over the last few months, proving to be comfortable safety nets for the rookie quarterback. Both Higgins (3 receptions, 66 yards) and Willies (3 receptions, 61 yards) had respectful games against the Ravens, making big plays in the 12-9 win. Obviously Jarvis Landry will receive his 10-12 targets and rookie Antonio Callaway will have a few opportunities to run deep but who will be Mayfield’s safety net receiver this week? Look for veteran tight end Darren Fells. Mayfield seems to find Fells for an occasional big-time play, finding reliability from the veteran on third down.
2. Increased production from one of the Browns top offensive talents?
Fourth-year running back Duke Johnson signed a three-year, $15.61 million on June 7, 2018, as Cleveland opted to keep one of their most versatile offensive weapons. In his three previous seasons with the Browns, Johnson has totaled 1,741 receiving yards, 1,085 rushing yards, and 10 touchdowns, on 447 touches. Through five games in 2018, he was rushed 17 times for 75 yards and caught the ball 10 times for 91 yards, scoring no touchdowns. With no Higgins in the slot this week, look for Johnson to have more opportunities on offense, he needs it.
3. Another good week for Mayfield?
The Los Angeles Chargers have surprisingly been poor on defense in the passing game so far in 2018. The Chargers have allowed 11 passing touchdowns, which is tied for fifth worst in the NFL. In addition, they have allowed an opposing passer rating of 99.3, the eight worst in the NFL. Mayfield has thrown for 838 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions, completing 58.9 percent of his passes. With Mayfield starting his first home game as the fifth highest Pro Football Focus grade among quarterbacks, look for the rookie to have another impressive day.
4. The best rushing offense in the NFL?
Through five games, the Browns lead the NFL in rushing yards with 723 yards on the ground to start the season. Collectively, the team is averaging 4.6 yards per carry which is good for sixth best in the NFL. Lastly, the Browns’ eight rushing touchdowns is the second best in the NFL, behind the New Orleans Saints (10). The Chargers rushing defense is upwards of top 15 in the NFL, so look for the run game to feature a good matchup on Sunday. Carlos Hyde running back is second in the NFL in rushing attempts with 100 and is tied for second with five rushing touchdowns. Rookie Nick Chubb has the best overall grade among all running backs, with a grade of 90.5. Chubb’s rushing grade of 92.9 is also the best in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus.
5. Who will stand out on defense?
Denzel Ward, Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi, Joe Schubert, and Damarious Randall have all had Pro Bowl caliber seasons for the Browns but there is one player that is not receiving enough attention. Rookie pass rusher Genard Avery has been outstanding through five games, generating five quarterback hits, eight quarterback hurries, two sacks and a batted down pass. Avery’s overall grade of 80.0 is the best among rookie edge rushers, and his pass rush grade of 80.0 is the ninth best in the NFL. Avery has been good in the run game as well, generating five run stops, a forced fumble, and 15 total tackles. The Browns rookie class is outstanding, and Avery needs more well-deserved recognition.