Coming off the bye, the Chargers head east this week as they take on a Browns team reeling through another season that has turned into a disaster at 1-6.
The Chargers are looking to rebound off a historic loss two weeks back when they allowed Peyton Manning and the Broncos to rally from a 24-0 deficit to fall at home 35-24.
It tied for the fourth-biggest regular-season comeback in NFL history, and came just a week after San Diego surrendered the final 17 points in a 31-24 loss to previously winless New Orleans.
“When you lose it’s rough, especially in a game where you had a big lead and so much at stake,” said Philip Rivers, who had career highs with four interceptions and six turnovers against Denver.
The Chargers have been giving up the ball way too much, they have 13 giveaways in the last four games. Shorter routes could benefit Rivers, who has been sacked 12 times in the last three games and is 2 for 12 with three INTs this season on throws 31 yards and longer.
The Browns defense leads the AFC with 10 picks, and could benefit from the generous Chargers and Rivers, who is never afraid to take a shot down the field to Malcolm Floyd or Antonio Gates.
Cleveland is among the conference leaders with 18 sacks.
The offense also has shown some positive signs behind rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, as Cleveland had no turnovers for the first time this season in last Sunday’s 17-13 loss at Indianapolis. However, the Browns could be without leading running back Trent Richardson, the team leader with 348 yards and 24 receptions, due to a rib cartilage injury.
The rookie running back was pulled last Sunday after rushing for eight yards on eight carries.
“If he’s ready to play, he’ll play,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “If we see that this is bothering him to the point where he can’t perform, then we’ll make those decisions as we go.”
If Richardson can’t go, Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya are expected to get the bulk of the carries.
Given the Chargers’ league-best rush defense (71.2 ypg), Weeden might get more opportunities to spread the ball around. He connected with nine receivers last Sunday, with Greg Little and Josh Gordon each catching touchdowns.
The Browns’ line has done a great job protecting Weeden, allowing three sacks over the past four games, but that unit has lost starting left guard Jason Pinkston for the season due to life-threatening blood clots in his lungs. Pinkston was released from the Cleveland Clinic on Wednesday, two days after being placed on injured reserve.
John Greco will likely replace Pinkston. Greco started last Sunday when Cleveland rushed for 55 yards.
“I thought John stepped in and did okay,” Shurmur told the Browns’ official website. “Anytime you remove a piece though, there’s a little bit of getting used to.”
Look for San Diego to have new energy in this one coming off the bye and the week to work out some of the kinks. Gates will have a big day, and RB Ryan Mathews will have his share of yards, putting up 154 the last two games.
San Diego 28 Cleveland 20