COSTA MESA, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Chargers have been playing at a high level on defense in the past seven games, holding teams to just 15.6 points per contest during that stretch.
But one of the things the Chargers have struggled with this season is athletic quarterbacks who can make plays outside the pocket.
Philadelphia's Carson Wentz, Jacksonville's Blake Bortles and Denver's Trevor Siemian in the Broncos' first matchup against the Chargers gave the Bolts' defense fits because of their ability to escape the pocket and makes plays with their feet.
Kizer brings an additional element with his ability to run the zone-read option, something the Chargers have not seen much of this season.
“Playing 11-on-11 -- that’s always a challenge when you have to account for the quarterback,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “And so we have to play very disciplined on defense. There’s been a lot of work this week, a lot of meeting time, a lot of walk-throughs and a lot of live reps in practice just on zone-read and Wildcat plays alone.”
The bottom line is that the Chargers have to make Kizer beat them from inside the pocket. And they did a good job of that last week against another mobile quarterback in Dallas Cowboys signal-caller Dak Prescott, keeping a spy in the middle of the field to contain him.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Kizer’s Total QBR of 25.6 ranks 33rd among 34 qualified quarterbacks, as does his 53 completion percentage.
Kizer has also thrown 14 interceptions, the most in the NFL. So if the Chargers can defend the Browns' option attack and make Kizer throw from within the pocket, there’s a good chance he will throw the ball to them.
In addition to containing Kizer, here are five more things to watch for when the Chargers host the winless Browns on Sunday:
Don’t give them hope: According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Browns have lost 18 consecutive road games starting with Week 7 of the 2015 season at the Rams when they were still playing in St. Louis. That is by far the longest active streak in the NFL, with the next-longest such streak belonging to the Broncos (seven straight). The Chargers are 14-point favorites in this game and can’t let the Browns gain confidence by allowing them to hang around.
Start fast: The Chargers have been getting off to slow starts this season and have been outscored by 32 points in first quarters, third worst in the NFL. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has completed 51 percent of his passes in the opening quarter, with no touchdowns and two interceptions. The Chargers still have not scored on an opening drive this season. Sunday would be a good time to break that streak.
Feed Keenan Allen: Allen has been on a tear in the past two games, with 23 receptions for 331 receiving yards and three touchdowns in that span. Cleveland’s defense has given up 22 passing touchdowns this season, tied for third worst in the NFL. So there will be opportunities for Allen.
It’s all about the ball: One of the few ways the Browns can win this game is for the Chargers to turn the football over and give a young Cleveland offense a short field to score points. So the Chargers just need to be efficient on offense, run their stuff and score points in the red zone. The Chargers have turned the ball over just five times in the past seven games.
Play mistake-free football in the kicking game: The Chargers made a change at kicker this week, signing Travis Coons to the active roster and placing Nick Novak on the season-ending injured reserve with a back injury. The Chargers need a consistent effort from Coons, both on field goals and kickoffs. Coons needs to make the field goals and extra points he’s supposed to make and do a good job of not giving Cleveland good field position on kickoffs. “Travis looked good,” Lynn said about how Coons performed in practice this week. “His rhythm is good. He kicked well, he kicked off well. He looked fine.”