The Cleveland Browns look like a much different team these days. But so do the Los Angeles Chargers, who appear to be hitting their stride.
Getting off to a terrific start has not exactly been the strong suit of the Chargers in recent seasons. And it’s one reason the club has failed to reach the post season since 2013 and hasn’t captured an AFC West title since ’09.
A year ago, new head coach Anthony Lynn and his club got off to a 0-4 start before rallying to win nine of its last 12 games. Still, a 9-7 record wasn’t good enough to qualify for the postseason. It’s been somewhat different after 5 weeks this year. The Bolts own a 3-2 record, with losses to the equally 5-0 Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams. The club has been a little inconsistent, especially on the defensive side of the football. And some of that can be blamed on the absence of sack specialist Joey Bosa, who has yet to make an appearance this season.
On Sunday, the Chargers play only their second game of the season out of the state of California when they travel east to face the rejuvenated Cleveland Browns. Speaking of postseason droughts, no NFL team owns a longer one at the moment then Hue Jackson’s club. The franchise hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2002 and hasn’t even finished above .500 since ’07.
But this club is certainly on the rise. Thanks to coordinator Gregg Williams’ aggressive and opportunistic defense and a spunky quarterback who is showing that the NFL stage is not too big for him. And this club has already played a lot of football this season, with three of their five games going into overtime. There was a Week 1 tied with the rival Steelers, a heartbreaking 45-42 loss at Oakland two weeks later and this past Sunday, a breakthrough 12-9 win over the visiting Baltimore Ravens.
Quarterback Philip Rivers, running back Melvin and the Los Angeles’ offense should prove to be a much tougher test for Williams’ unit. The veteran signal-caller has connected on 70.1 percent of his passes, good for 1,495 yards and 13 scores (2 interceptions). Gordon has already totaled 595 yards from scrimmage, scoring three times on the ground and through the air. On the other side of the ball, rookie safety Derwin James leads the team with three sacks and has been all over the field. The 2018 first-round pick also paced the club with 31 tackles and six passes defensed, to go with one interception.
But Lynn’s team runs into a team that has given up a lot of yards both through the air and on the ground but has also had the gift of grab. The Browns have accumulated an NFL-best 15 takeaways. Six of those came in the Week 1 tie with the Steelers, meaning there have also been nine takeaways in the past four games. There have also been 14 sacks, five by second-year defensive end Myles Garrett.
During the first two seasons of Jackson’s coaching tenure in Cleveland, the team won one game and it was vs. the Chargers in Week 16 of ’16. Now these teams clash in a very important game within the conference. So can the Browns win three games in a row for the first time since Weeks 8-10 in 2014? The club continues to slay its recent demons on an almost weekly basis. But this encounter with the Chargers could prove to be a very tall task.