As the Cleveland Browns look for the best plan of attack against the Los Angeles Chargers defense, they may be best served to look in the mirror and consult Joe Woods as to what would give their own defense the most problems.
Both the Chargers and Browns are built with the idea of having a strong defensive line, a great secondary and the combination of those two units can perhaps get more out of their linebackers than their talent would suggest.
The Chargers have a terrific secondary with the possible exception of corner Michael Davis. Davis is an imposing corner at 6'2" but he has been the weakest link so far this season. However, rookie Asante Samuel Jr. has played well and their slot corner, Tevaughn Campbell, has been excellent in coverage through four games.
Their safeties, Derwin James and Nasir Adderley, give them range and power. Both are productive run defenders.
The Chargers have Joey Bosa up front, but the rest of their defensive line is... not as good as the Browns. They have a number of players who can rush the passer, including edge rusher Kyler Fackrell and, surprisingly, nose tackle Linval Joseph.
The team that has offered the most effective offensive scheme to frustrate the Browns defense is the Houston Texans. The Browns are designed to have their defensive ends take away the edges, shutting down the perimeter and force everything inside.
The Texans made that more difficult by running a large amount of heavy looks, including a significant emphasis two tight end formations. That forced the Browns to stretch out their defensive line in order to try to control the edges.
The Browns were still able to hold the Texans to 2.9 yards per carry on 28 carries. Where it really helped the Texans was in the passing game where the Browns generated the least amount of pressure in any of their first four games.
Both the Browns and Chargers are top five in pass defense. The difference between the two defensive unit thus far is the Chargers have been awful against the run.
They are giving up 5.3 yards per run, which ranks 30th in the NFL. That's after a game in which they held the Las Vegas Raiders to 2.7 yards per carry on 18 attempts.
Coming off of back to back games against stout run defending teams in the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings, the Chargers should be a welcome sight for the Browns. If they play bigger, utilizing their tight ends, the Chargers may be forced into a difficult situation, perhaps forcing them to play their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage.
That could open up some play-action opportunities in the passing game down the field. Perhaps once per quarter, the Browns should go with a shot play, be it Odell Beckham or Anthony Schwartz. If the safeties are forced to focus on the Browns tight ends and backs, that could allow the Browns to get one on one coverage down the field.
Something to monitor in this game is how much the Browns utilize their zone stretch play-action passing. The past two games, it seems to have disappeared.
Whether something the Browns are doing in connection to Mayfield's shoulder, a concern with their health at tackle or simply a game planning consideration, this could be a good concept to get back to it in order to create easy passing opportunities to tight ends in the flats or over the middle, which has been a mainstay in this offense dating back to last year.
Having the tight ends on the field also makes it easier to naturally lend support in pass protection, particularly against Joey Bosa on the edge. The best thing the Browns can do is basically have two players hitting Bosa on just about every offensive snap.
The rare break Bosa might get could be on a screen, which has been one of the most reliable concepts the Browns have utilized this year. And if the Browns opt to load up to run the ball, they may want to put both Chubb and Hunt on the field at the same to put added stress on the defense. Shift and motion Hunt to create some favorable matchups in the passing game or to simply be a great distraction when handing the ball to Chubb.
The Browns don't need to line up with their tight ends all attached every play. Put one next to the side Bosa, which could be inline, a wing or a bastard split (about a yard away) and use the other two all over the field. Create different blocking angles and force the defense to account for a number of different looks.
Between their own limitations due to injury, some inconsistency in their play and the potential vulnerabilities the Chargers defense has, this may have be the perfect game for the Browns to impose their will running the football, limit the amount of possessions the opponent has and trust their defense to continue playing at a high level.