Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
Browns v. Los Angeles Chargers
Sunday, 1 p.m., FirstEnergy Stadium
Last game: Beat Oakland Raiders, 26-10, Oct. 7, in Carson, CA.
Coach: Anthony Lynn, 12-9, second year; 12-10 overall.
Series record: Chargers lead, 16-9-1.
Last meeting: Chargers won, 19-10, Dec. 3, in Carson.
League rankings: Offense is seventh overall (11th rushing, 13th passing), defense is 15th overall (10th rushing, 19th passing) and turnover differential is plus-3.
Things I think
1. After winning nine of their last 12 games last season, the Chargers entered 2018 with a playoffs-or-bust mentality and felt the AFC West title was within reach. Although they are a respectable 3-2, they ran into two unforeseen circumstances – a rampaging Chiefs team off to a 5-0 start, and the loss of franchise pass rusher Joey Bosa. Bosa hasn’t played since injuring his left foot in an Aug. 7 training camp practice. They’re calling it a deep bruise – not the dreaded Lis franc fracture – and now are targeting Week 9 after their bye for Bosa’s hopeful return. Without Bosa (23 sacks in 28 career games), Gus Bradley’s 4-3 defense has struggled to pressure quarterbacks straight up. That lack of pressure was evident in their two losses against undefeated Kansas City (38-28) and the Rams (35-23).
2. Right now, safety Derwin James may be Denzel Ward’s top challenger for defensive rookie-of-the-year honors. James, drafted No. 17 overall out of Florida State, has made plays all over the defense for Bradley, displaying impressive range in coverage, the ability to get to the quarterback, and sure tackling. He leads the team in tackles and sacks (three), and has one interception.
3. Philip Rivers is eighth all-time with over 51,000 yards passing, but he merely ranks fifth among active quarterbacks behind Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. Still, at age 36, Rivers might be having his best year in 15 NFL seasons. Rivers is completing 70.1 percent of his passes and is second behind Jared Goff with a passer rating of 116.4, which is built on 13 touchdowns v. just two interceptions. The lower interception rate is the product of coach Anthony Lynn’s lecturing and Rivers checking down more rather than stubbornly trying to fit the ball in the eye of a needle downfield, like in his younger days. Rivers is blessed with several receiving options even though tight Hunter Henry is out for the year after a spring ACL injury. Wideouts Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Travis Benjamin, backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler, and unretired tight end Antonio Gates give Rivers’ still-lively arm an abundance of targets.
4. Backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler give the Chargers the best all-purpose duo West of New Orleans’ Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. The Saints’ duo set an NFL record in 2017 with a combined 3,094 yards from scrimmage and 25 touchdowns. Gordon (595 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns) and Ekeler (410 and three TDs) are ahead of that pace through five games in 2018.
Did you know … ?
1. Rivers still commutes daily from his home in San Diego to the team’s displaced headquarters in Los Angeles in a specially equipped SUV that allows him study game video while being driven.
2. Rivers is signed through 2019, but has said he wants to keep playing when the Chargers move into the unnamed Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park in 2020. The Chargers will be the second-class tenants of the Los Angeles Rams at the $5 billion new stadium being built by Rams owner Stan Kroenke. Why would the Chargers elect to be the Jets (who are tenants at the Giants’ MetLife Stadium) of the West? Well, they couldn’t get a new stadium built in San Diego, won’t pony up for their own stadium in Los Angeles, and will be paying $1 a year in rent.
3. The Chargers are another team affected by the epidemic of kicking problems this year. Kicker Caleb Sturgis has missed four PATs and three field goals in five games. Rather than cut Sturgis and eat a $1 million guarantee, the Chargers whacked his holder and signed punter Donnie Jones, who held for Sturgis with the Eagles last year.
Small world: Head coach Anthony Lynn was Browns running backs coach in 2007-08 and is married to former FOX 8 newscaster Stacey Bell … Receiver Travis Benjamin was a fourth-round pick of the Browns in 2012 and left in free agency after the 2015 season … Quarterback Cardale Jones attended Glenville High School and played for Ohio State … Defensive end Joey Bosa played for Ohio State, tight end Antonio Gates was a basketball player at Kent State and linebacker Jatavis Brown played for Akron.