Week 5 of the NFL season is upon us, featuring a number of amazing matchups. Prior to the season, the most eye-popping matchup would likely have been the Kansas City Chiefs hosting the Buffalo Bills. However, after a slow start to the season for the Chiefs, as well as surprisingly strong starts for other teams, there are a few other matchups that grab the eye. One of these is the Los Angeles Chargers visiting the Cleveland Browns. With both teams sitting at 3-1, this game could potentially have major playoff indications.
The Chargers, off to their hottest start in more than a decade, currently hold the lead in the loaded AFC West thanks to their divisional record. On the other end, the Browns, tied with the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens, are tied for second in the division due to the Bengals’ sole divisional win. Regardless, both of these teams are playing some of their best football in a long time. Let’s take a look at some interesting storylines and featured matchups. This is the Chargers-Browns NFL Week 5 preview.
Wait, Does Tanking Actually Work?
Since the advent of the NFL Draft, tanking has been a common strategy used by struggling teams. Tanking is when a struggling team intentionally loses games in order to receive an earlier draft pick. In recent years, teams have received criticism for tanking, as it has been brought into question whether it actually works. Some teams have seemingly been stuck in an eternal tanking mode, such as the Detroit Lions and New York Jets.
However, some teams utilized tanking strategies and capitalized perfectly on it. In 2019, the Chargers finished with a record of 5-11, which netted them the 6th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. That pick turned into their elite franchise quarterback, Justin Herbert. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns finished that same season with a record of 6-10, which netted them the 10th pick. That pick turned into offensive tackle Jedrick Wills, a stalwart of their talented offensive line.
A few years earlier, both teams were in similar situations. In 2016, the Cleveland Browns finished with an abhorrent record of 1-15 (with their sole win coming against the Chargers), and the number 1 pick in the 2017 Draft. With that pick, the Browns selected Myles Garrett, who is now arguably the best edge rusher in the entire NFL. In that same season, the Chargers finished 5-11 and the 7th pick. That pick became wide receiver Mike Williams, who was looking like a bust prior to this season. However, with an expanded role in head coach Brandon Staley’s offense, Williams is finally having a renaissance season.
The point is this: with a good General Manager, tanking can be a viable strategy. The years of turmoil these franchises (and their fans) have gone through has paid off swimmingly. Now, these tanks are facing off again, this time as contenders.
Matchups to Watch
Rashawn Slater vs. Myles Garrett
At this point, it’s difficult to not feel bad for Slater. Expectations were high for the rookie tackle coming out of college, so if he played poorly, he would be prematurely labelled a bust. However, the rap sheet of talented edge rushers he has battled with through 4 weeks would test the limits of any tackle for a whole season. Chase Young, Chris Jones, and Maxx Crosby through 4 weeks is absolutely absurd, yet he has held his ground. He has shut down all of these star edge rushers, and is arguably the best offensive rookie in the league so far.
However, he now faces his toughest challenge yet by far. Myles Garrett has been on a rampage the past couple of seasons, and he has not slowed down at all this season. One could even make a plausible case for him being the best defensive player in the league right now. Through Week 4, Garrett already has 6 sacks and 19 tackles. Garrett is shaping up to have the best season of his career, and Slater needs to be able to shut him down. Whether he will be able to or not will not only determine the outcome of the game, but also the well-being of Justin Herbert.
Nick Chubb vs. the Chargers Run Defense
The Browns’ Nick Chubb is one of the prized “bell cow” running backs in the NFL. A bell cow running back is a running back who receives the bulk of all rushing attempts for his team. Many teams in recent years have switched to committee approaches, but not the Browns. That is due in large part to Chubb’s talent for carving out huge chunks of yardage on his runs. NFL defenses can never hope to shut down Chubb, only slow him down.
This poses a major issue for the Chargers’ defense. After a disastrous attempt to handle Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliot on the Dallas Cowboys, the Chargers’ run defense can only be described as ‘porous’. Sure, they looked great when shutting down Josh Jacobs on the Las Vegas Raiders, but let’s face it: Jacobs is not nearly as talented as Ezekiel Elliot or Tony Pollard. And now they face Nick Chubb, who is more talented than all of them. Even if they manage to clear the nigh-insurmountable hurdle in Nick Chubb, the Browns also have Kareem Hunt. Hunt is a backup running back for the Browns, but would start for almost every team in the NFL. The Chargers’ run defense needs to at least bend, not break, in order to slow the Browns’ offense enough for the Chargers’ offense to gain a lead.
This game, as mentioned earlier, is a matchup of two extremely talented playoff contenders. Though they may win through different methods (Chargers through passing, Browns through rushing), what matters is they both get the job done. This game is an even more difficult matchup for the Chargers than the Chiefs or Raiders. For that reason, it’s difficult to foresee a clear winner or loser, as it can really go either way. With that said, I predict a 27-21 win for the Cleveland Browns. This is simply because I cannot see a way for the Chargers to contain Chubb. This was the Chargers-Browns NFL Week 5 preview.