Know thy Enemy: How do the Browns stack up vs. Chargers?

For the second straight season, the Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Chargers are set to square off. This time, however, the Chargers are going to be the team traveling across the country to meet the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Both teams come into the game with a record of 2-2, as the Chargers are coming in off of a win over the Houston Texans. The Browns will be looking to stay in the mix over the next seven games after falling to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4.

Here we will take a look at how the Chargers look in all phases of the game, and how the Browns match up with them. Spoilers: I tend to think this game is going to be much tighter than many imagine.

A look back at last year's matchup

Cleveland Browns Los Angeles Chargers
Cleveland Browns Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Chargers offensive tackle Rashawn Slater (70) blocks on Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (95). (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Almost a year ago to the date, the Browns and Chargers put together one of the highest scoring games of the season, combining for 89 points on the afternoon. The Browns fell just short in this game, losing by a score of 42-47.

Both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt found the endzone (Hunt scored twice, actually), and combined for a massive 222 yards rushing on the day. Through the air they found production from both tight end David Njoku and wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones. Njoku racked up a massive 149 yards receiving and a touchdown on seven catches, while Peoples-Jones added another 70 yards on five catches.

On the other side, Chargers’ star quarterback Herbert carved the Browns’ defense apart for nearly 400 yards through the air and four touchdowns. Mike Williams went for 165 yards and two touchdowns receiving, with Keenan Allen adding another 75 yards. Austin Ekeler found the endzone twice on the ground as well.

As the Browns look to get even in this home-and-home series with the Chargers, how do they stack up this year?

Browns' run offense vs. Chargers' run defense

Cleveland Browns Los Angeles Chargers
Cleveland Browns Los Angeles Chargers

Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (27) runs for a touchdown against Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Michael Davis. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It is no secret the Browns boast one of (if not the best) rushing attack in the entire NFL. Nick Chubb is on pace for well over 300 carries, and currently sits second in rushing behind only Saquon Barkley through four weeks.

According to Football Outsiders, the Browns sit behind only the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons (shocking) in rushing efficiency (DVOA). Chubb has the third highest DVOA in the NFL, and Hunt is sitting 12th. Needless to say, this is the best duo in the league by a comfortable margin. Football Outsiders ranks the Browns’ offensive line as a top-10 run blocking unit.

They have the most runs over 20 yards of all 32 units, and are averaging five yards per carry. These guys can churn out yards on the ground and have done so with consistency through the first four weeks of the season.

Meanwhile the defense in Los Angeles sits middle of the road in rush defense DVOA, as they currently fall 18th through four weeks. The Carolina Panthers, New York Jets, and Pittsburgh Steelers (all teams the Browns have already gashed on the ground) all land higher than the Chargers in run defense DVOA. They are surrendering the second-most yards per carry of any team in the NFL.

Advantage: Browns.

Chargers run offense vs. Browns' run defense

Cleveland Browns Los Angeles Chargers
Cleveland Browns Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) runs the ball ahead of Cleveland Browns middle linebacker Anthony Walker. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Conversely, the Chargers are terrible at running the football at this current moment. Ekeler cannot get it going, as he is at the bottom of the list of all running backs with a minimum of 32 carries in efficiency, and the Chargers have currently tallied the third-worst rushing DVOA. Only the Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills have been worse at running the football this season.

Football Outsiders chalks this Chargers’ offensive line as the 26th best run blocking unit in the league. Herbert leads the league in passing yards because the Chargers flat out cannot move the football on the ground.

Bringing this back to level ground, however, the Browns’ defense also falls third-to-last in run defense DVOA. Only Seattle and Detroit boast worse run defenses than Cleveland through four weeks. Point blank: there is not a worse interior defensive line in the NFL than what Cleveland fields on Sundays.

To the Browns’ advantage, however, they have hope that all of Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney, and Taven Bryan all return for this matchup. This would certainly limit the amount of practice squad players and day-three rookies the Browns would have to throw on the field.

Advantage: toss-up.

Browns' passing offense vs. Chargers' passing defense

Cleveland Browns Los Angeles Chargers
Cleveland Browns Los Angeles Chargers

Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku (85) runs ahead of Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Michael Davis. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

This matchup of the game depends almost entirely on which Jacoby Brissett shows up. It is expected that the Browns would get some volatility out of Brissett, who is a career-long backup and journeyman spot starter, and thus far that has come true.

Brissett has been a bit rough against the Panthers and Falcons, but has played at a high level against the Jets and Steelers. Overall, Brissett falls as the 12th ranked quarterback in terms of DVOA, and is ninth in QBR. All-in-all this has pulled the Browns all the way up to the 11th most efficient passing attack in the NFL.

Just as the Browns’ run defense met the Chargers’ run offense where they were, they do the same thing here as Los Angeles boasts the 11th most efficient pass defense in the NFL as well. The Steelers fall 12th in this metric, the Falcons 17th, so this is the best passing defense the Browns have faced this season.

The Chargers have a ton of talent in their secondary, similar to Cleveland, as names like Derwin James, J.C. Jackson, Asante Samuel Jr., and Nasir Adderley patrol the back third in Los Angeles. Up front, Khalil Mack has been as dynamic as ever, as he is already up to five sacks on the season as well.

Football Outsiders credits the Browns’ offensive line as the fifth-best pass blocking unit on the season thus far, and slots the Chargers’ defensive line as the 10th best in terms of pass rush efficiency.

Head coach Kevin Stefanski rose to the challenge against a good pass defense when the Browns beat the Steelers. Can he do it again against the Chargers?

Advantage: toss-up.

Chargers' passing offense vs. Browns' passing defense

Cleveland Browns Los Angeles Chargers
Cleveland Browns Los Angeles Chargers

Cleveland Browns cornerback A.J. Green (38) breaks up a pass intended for Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams (81). (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

This is where the biggest mismatch exists outside of the run game of the Browns vs. the Chargers’ run defense. The Chargers sit as the sixth-most efficient passing team, and the Browns sit as the 18th most efficient defense against the pass.

Hope (or cope) could be found in the defense’s blown coverages over the first two weeks significantly dragging down that number. Over the past two weeks, the secondary has found their stride and have begun to play as we expected them to play.

Not only does Herbert lead the league in passing yards, but he sits fifth in DVOA and seventh in QBR through four weeks for the Chargers. The Browns are going to have a hard time limiting explosive plays and are more than likely going to have to sit back in a large amount of two-high looks with both John Johnson III and Grant Delpit sitting back.

This will be the emphasis defensively this week.

Advantage: Chargers

Other variables to consider

Cleveland Browns Los Angeles Chargers
Cleveland Browns Los Angeles Chargers

Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (27) runs the ball as tight end Harrison Bryant (88) provides coverage against Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa (97). Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Browns are not the only team that has been snake bitten by injuries.

The Chargers are going to be without two Pro Bowlers (at least) on Sunday as stud left tackle Rashawn Slater is out for the season, and defensive end Joey Bosa is on Injured Reserve. Additionally, newly signed top cornerback J.C. Jackson is dealing with a lingering injury, and wide receiver Keenan Allen continues to be day-to-day.

The Browns have some similar variables, as the status of Garrett and Clowney is still up in the air. However, if Garrett can go, he is going to get sixth round rookie Jamaree Salyer on Sunday. Salyer played phenomenally against the Texans on Sunday, but going against a premier pass rusher in the NFL is a different story.

Not only that, but Herbert is still playing through a rib injury as well. On paper it is close, but the Browns could be catching the Chargers at the right time.

Final thoughts on Browns vs. Chargers

Cleveland Browns Los Angeles Chargers
Cleveland Browns Los Angeles Chargers

Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

The margin for error at the NFL level is so slim. Good teams lose to teams they should beat each and every week. Bad teams have stellar weeks as well. Neither of these teams are bad, and both hang in the tier of underacheiving given their schedules.

The Browns have lost two ugly games to teams that are probably going to be drafting in the top-10 this Spring, but the Chargers got blown out by the Jacksonville Jaguars and had a hard time rallying up against the Texans this past weekend. The margin between these two games, especially when they go head-to-head on Sunday will be razor thin.

Overall, there are so many outside variables that can effect a football game outside of just head-to-head numbers to consider. Can Salyer stack games and handle Garrett? Will Garrett play? And if he does is he healthy enough to produce?

On paper this game can go either way. The Chargers’ ability to create explosive plays through the air gives them a slight advantage, and the odds reflect that. However, if the Browns’ offense can be as dominant and clock-controlling as they were against the Jets and the Steelers, they may be able to take some air out of the tires of the Los Angeles offense.

Stefanski is 13-3 after a loss, so he has a way of rallying his teams right back up. Do not be shocked if the Browns find themselves in another tight game that goes down to the wire against the Chargers this upcoming weekend.

Story originally appeared on Browns Wire