"If anyone thinks this is a bye week than you don't know the NFL," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "I am going to tell you something about Cleveland. They are 3-4 at home and I would ask you to go look at the teams that they have lost to. Three teams that are 12-1, they lost to those three. We go play like we can play and we will be ok. We go in there and think it is going to be an easy day and we are in big trouble."
"This is no time for us to back off and not take the Browns serious," linebacker Steve Foley agreed. "The time when we sit and gat a little lackadaisical is the time they will sneak in and hurt us."
With six inches to a foot of snow expected, the field conditions will likely be treacherous. It makes ball control – specifically holding onto the rock – that much more important.
Tough sledding is one term used in football when you cannot run the ball but the sleds may be out in a different form if the ground is covered with flakes. Footing will play a significant role in the game and if the conditions are bad, it may be the game to sit LaDainian Tomlinson. The Chargers are in a good position to secure the division and Tomlinson will be needed for the playoffs. Under normal circumstances, requesting he sit would be foolish but this may be the extreme that requires it.
Of course, the likelihood that he sits is slim to none. The Bolts have a valuable piece of real estate working for them – momentum.
The run game will be where the Chargers pick up the yardage. If the terrain is rough, it could come down to only this portion of the game and who gets the breaks. One miss and slow shuffling of the feet could turn a one yard run into a long gain.
The offensive line will again be the focus as the trenches will play a major role in finding the victor.
"Those guys don't say much, but they have a lot of pride in what they do," Tomlinson said of his offensive line. "It's amazing that this is their first year playing together."
"Their defensive line is stout," quarterback Drew Brees said of the Browns. "They have given some pretty good teams some problems. That is the first thing you have to handle in the run game and as far as the protection in the pass game. The rest of their defense is pretty solid. They are a lot better than what their record shows."
The Chargers remain the only team in the league that has a quarterback with twenty plus touchdown passes, a receiver with ten or more touchdown catches and a running back with ten plus rushing touchdowns.
If conditions permit, Brees will implement Antonio Gates back into the offense, especially with Keenan McCardell iffy.
Gates is returning to a place that he became famous for his ball skills on the road to the Final Four for Kent State. Gates went up to Kent State on Saturday to catch up with some old friends.
In the midst of his worst two game stretch this season, Gates is looking to "rebound" as he takes his game to the next level. It is his demeanor that makes everyone think it is possible.
"If I continue to work hard and do the things that got me to this point, I think one day I can be pretty good," the modest tight end said. "I don't want to over exaggerate what could happen. Things can change at the drop of a dime. One minute you could be the best tight end in the league and the next minute, you can be the biggest bust in the league. If I continue to work hard and do things that got me to this point, I can become a pretty good tight end."
The Chargers run defense has kept opponents under 100 yards in nine of the 13 games this season and that will again be the focus on Sunday as they face Luke McCown and the Browns.
"In a game like this you never know what to expect," Foley admitted.
The thought process throughout the defense has always been to make team's one dimensional by ganging up on the run.
Adding to that is the expectation of snow squalls – a situation where winds gust high and kick up the snow on the ground to create a blinding effect. If this occurs, it will be near impossible to throw the ball in as visibility will be reduced to a couple of feet.
"We are excited about just playing football right now," cornerback Quentin Jammer said in reference to the weather conditions. "The quarterback is capable of putting up big numbers and that is what we are looking at. The game before he passed for about 227 yards."
That was under normal conditions, which Sunday does not figure to be. Although teams have had fun throwing against San Diego, the ground game figures to be the difference maker this week.
"A year ago William Green, prior to an injury, was averaging four and a half yards a rush," Schottenheimer said.
Green is averaging 3.6 yards per carry this season and Lee Suggs is averaging 3.2 yards per carry. Suggs was back on the practice field on Friday, meaning the Chargers will see a healthy does of both backs.
The patchwork offensive line deployed in Cleveland has made life miserable for both backs.
When asked after Wednesday's practice if it's difficult running behind the Browns' patchwork offensive line, Green didn't mince words: "I'm not going to answer that question. It's self-explanatory."
He could be bitter because a lot of money is riding on his performance. Green needs to reach the 1,000-yard mark for an incentive to kick in that would increase his base salary to $2 million in 2005 and $3.5 million in 2006. He's currently set to make $455,000 in 2005 and $545,000 in 2006.
"William might be pressing a little bit," interim coach Terry Robiskie said. "It might be himself just pressing a little bit."
The Chargers defensive line should have a field day up front. They have proven to be disciplined against the run and are aggressive at the point of attack to free up the linebacking crew. Straight line speed of the linebackers could also play a role as cuts will become worse than a driving on the edge of a cliff without rails.
"They do a lot of shift formations, things to try and throw us off," Foley added. But that may also be limited with the snowfall. Movement may be limited to keep feet instead of bodies on the ground.
On Special Teams:
Again, with snow in the forecast, Mike Scifres job becomes that much more important. He now leads the league in net punting and the conditions on Sunday likely mean he will need to have another big game. Kicking it high and deep into the snow will turn away the returner from even fielding a punt. The field position game will be more important on Sunday than in any other game this year.
Field goals may not be in the cards for Nate Kaeding with wind and snow kicking up. If that is the case, his kickoffs will need to be lower than normal to keep them from going out of bounds in the uncertain wind.
Fielding kickoffs and punts won't be fun for the Chargers return team and the premise will be to just hold onto the ball.
"Its tough to win in Cleveland with that crowd – the fans, the Dawg Pound – it gets crazy," Gates revealed.
It doesn't matter what the temperature is, what the conditions are, or whether their team is 3-10 or 13-0, Cleveland fans take football seriously. They have proven to be the edge already this year and will be in full force on Sunday.
Somewhat normal outside:
Denis Savage can be reached at email@example.com