Browns-Chargers: Greg's Game Preview

Greg Hensley's back with another look at the key match-ups for the Browns and Chargers this Sunday. Here's more of the lower-level analysis that Browns fans expect - and can find every week on the OBR...

The 2-5 Browns travel to the 5-2 Chargers this Sunday in what is a game of familiar faces. It isn't just the Browns facing their former coach Marty Shottenheimer but the Browns are facing many of the players that Browns fans desired in the draft.

Many Browns fans as well as former head coach Chris Palmer were chomping at the bit to draft LaDainian Tomlinson but sadly the Browns chose to go for defense with Gerard Warren.

It was no secret that owner Randy Lerner was a huge fan of quarterback Phillip Rivers but with the Chargers trading down with the Giants and making the trade for Rivers, it wasn't meant to be.

The Shawne Merriman band wagon filled up fast before the 2005 draft, as many Browns fans emailed me about the potential of the kid with the nickname of "Lights Out".

For two consecutive years, Marcus McNeil was the absolute best left tackle in football and one of my favorite players to watch. Thanks in large part to a slew of misinformation Marcus fell to the 2nd round and became the steal of the draft. How many Browns fans were crossing their fingers for the mammoth LT to anchor the left side for years to come? That one hurt.

Chargers Offense

The Chargers offense is built around the most dominant running back in football. LT is the complete package and only getting better. Tomlinson has the speed to shred the defense but he also has patience in allowing the defense to show their run package before he sells out to the intended running lane. Once he gets past the line, it becomes a footrace.

Tomlinson also happens to be the best receiving back in football as he has become the true safety valve for quarterback Phillip Rivers. The swing pass is being used in place of the outside run on may occasions. It has been very effective and this is where the outside linebackers must avoid leaving LT alone on the outside.

Quarterback Phillip Rivers is beginning to show why the Chargers were willing to allow pro bowl quarterback Drew Brees to walk. Rivers has the quickest release of any quarterback currently in the game, which makes him very difficult to sack. He is also showing solid decision making and accuracy. The key to slowing Rivers is taking away the quick routes and forcing him to be patient.

Rivers has solid weapons receiving the ball. We know what LT can do on the quick screen and dump down but veteran Keenan McCardell provides the tough over the middle yards. He is a clutch receiver that will put his body on the line.

Eric Parker is primarily used to stretch the field as a decoy for tight end, Antonio Gates. It's no secret that Gates is just behind Kellen Winslow in receptions and yardage. This should motivate both players to bring their A game. Antonio Gates could find himself matched up with safety Sean Jones for much of the game. This will be a tremendous match up.

The Chargers offense is only as good as their offensive line. The line is aided by a quarterback that gets rid of the ball quickly and a running back that can take over a game but this line is a tough, physical group that enjoys imposing their physical dominance over their opponents. The Chargers enjoy running to the right side of the linm but the left side led by rookie Marcus McNeil seems to be where the big plays come from. This is especially true when those linemen get out in front and block into the second level. McNeil vs. Kamerion Wimbley should be a terrific battle.

Chargers Defense

The Chargers defense will be without their two best pass rushers. This will not only hurt their pass defense, it will also hurt their run defense. The Chargers are most effective in stopping the run by getting into the pocket before the running back even takes the ball. This will be a difficult task without outside linebackers Shawn Merriman and Shawn Phillips. They have combined for 15 of the 26 sacks produced by the Charger defense.

The inside run will be difficult for the Browns as they face off against the best nose tackle in football. Jamal Williams is controlling the middle of defensive line with power and quickness. His mammoth size gives most centers difficulty but his quick feet and excellent use of hands allows him to manipulate the interior of the line into the lap of the quarterback. The Browns must double up on Jamal in order to wear him down for the second half of the game.

The Charger secondary is led by free safety Marleen McCree. McCree is one of the hardest hitting safeties in the game, but is part of a secondary that is vulnerable over the top. They are similar to the Ravens in that they are designed to make plays in front of them, thanks to the pressure defense. If the pressure is not coming, they are not the same defense. This group loves to play receivers tight at the line and if you can defeat the initial jam, opportunity will arise beyond the 15 yard area.

Browns Offense

Last week, Jeff Davidson began to show what he can do as offensive coordinator. The Jets were vulnerable to the run and that was exploited for 60 minutes by loading up with the double tight end sets. This week look for the Browns to use the outside run and the play action deep in an attempt to keep the Chargers offense off of the field.

Quarterback Charlie Frye is still playing like the hectic rookie for the majority of the game but we are seeing improvement in several areas. When Charlie squares his shoulders and throws the ball through the receiver, he is simply a different quarterback. When Charlie is throwing off of his back foot or trying to loft the ball in, his accuracy vanishes and the ball ends up on the receivers back shoulder.

Charlie should also look to roll out using the play action fake. This will sell the inside run and allow his receivers time to get open deep down the field. It will also allow him the opportunity to move the chains with his feet.

Running back Reuben Droughns is coming off of his best game of the year and he will need another big game if the Browns are to have a chance in this one. With injuries and suspension plaguing the Chargers front seven, the opportunity will be there for Reuben to use his physicality to wear down the thin front seven as the game progresses.

The Browns receivers have slowly disappeared over the last few weeks. Braylon Edwards was tearing up the league until he seemed to slip into a sophomore slump. This could be a big week for Braylon if the secondary for the Chargers are asked to come up and support the run. It is vital for Braylon to do a much better job of getting off the line quickly and defeating the jam.

Charlie Frye will be looking for Kellen Winslow Jr. anytime he drops back to pass. Kellen is living up to his lofty expectations. The Chargers enjoy using inside backer Donnie Edwards as the tight end jammer. He will look to slow Kellen at the line and cover him for 5-10 yards and then he will pass Kellen onto the safety. The Browns will look to roll Kellen to the outside where it will take the safety longer to get there. This could lead to a big run after the catch down the sideline.

The Browns offensive line will be without two starters this week, but few will notice if the line continues its high level of play. The key for the line will be Hank Fraley going against Jamal Williams. Hank will be giving up a lot of size and strength. This will mean he will need help early in the game but a controlled running attack will slow Jamal as you get deep into the second half.

Browns Defense

The Browns front seven will be in for one of the toughest tasks that they will face all year. How will they stop a running back that seems unstoppable? How will they pressure a quarterback that gets rid of the ball like Dan Marino?

The answer is simple. They won't, but what they can do is avoid giving up the big plays by playing a patient controlling defense. Big Ted Washington will need his best game as a Brown. Ted must control the middle and allow the inside backers to seal the gaps. If Ted is having a great game, the Browns defense should have a great day.

The Browns outside linebackers will be in for a pure mental test. Kamerion Wimbley will challenge fellow rookie Marcus McNeil but he will have to show the ability to rush the passer without losing outside containment, especially on that little swing pass out in the flat to Tomlinson. Keeping everything bottled up to the inside is a must for the Browns.

The Chargers love to run to their right and that should play into the strength of Willie McGinest. Willie is listed as questionable and if he is unable to go the task will fall upon Chaun Thompson. Chaun is improving every week and when he gets in the game, he may find himself with the opportunity to show how fast he really is.

The Browns inside linebackers have made major improvement in playing their assigned gaps. This is vital when facing Tomlinson. He loves to take it inside and bounce it back out. That is where sliding with the runner comes into play. Slide with him and continue to force him wider and wider. This allows help from the outside to close in and bottle up the back.

With so much attention being paid to the running game the Browns secondary will likely find themselves on an island to themselves. Cornerback Daven Holly is suffering from an undisclosed illness and remains questionable but is expected to play. The key however for this game is the safety play. Brodney Pool, Sean Jones and Brian Russell must step up big, not only in covering Gates but in blasting the Charger receivers. Make the receivers look for the safety and they slow down while rounding off their routes.

Sean Jones was the defensive player of the week and if he can shut down Antonio Gates he may receive the award for the second consecutive week. Rivers likes to make the quick throw and his passes can be jumped especially when he eyeballs Gates.


No one is giving the Browns a chance in this one but the Browns are very capable of pulling out the upset. The Browns must get off to the quick start and force the Chargers to play catch up. If the Chargers get the lead they will pound it out with 40 rushing attempts while the Browns offense sits on the sideline watching.

Another strong special teams game will be vital especially with the return of punt returner Dennis Northcutt. The Browns must keep the Chargers pinned back. They are a different team once they cross the 50.

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