Time: 4:05 pm, Sunday, December 6, 2009
Location: Cleveland Browns Stadium
Network, Announcers: CBS- Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots.
Line: San Diego by thirteen-and-a-half
Team W/L Records: Cleveland is 1-10; San Diego is 8-3
Coaches: Eric Mangini is 24-35 overall, 1-10 with the Browns; Norv Turner is 85-98-1 overall, 27-16 in his third season with the Chargers.
Last Week for the Browns: Dropped their sixth straight, sixteenth of seventeen and eighteenth of twenty in a listless 16-7 loss at Cincinnati. The Browns managed only 169 total yards, the seventh time this season they've been held under 200. Going back to the final five weeks of the 2008 season Cleveland has put together 12 sub-200 yard performances. By contrast, the Indianapolis Colts have had one sub-200 yard game this decade- and that was in the infamous 2007 season finale against the Titans when their starters sat the entire second half. Chew on that for a minute.
Last Week for the Chargers: Rode 317 passing yards from Phillip Rivers to a 43-14 wipeout of Kansas City, their sixth consecutive win.
All-Time Series: Chargers lead, 13-7-1.
Last Meeting- November 5, 2006: The undermanned Browns played competitive football, taking a 12-10 halftime lead, but were eventually worn down by the talented Chargers in a 32-25 San Diego victory at the Edifice Formerly Known as Jack Murphy Stadium. Not surprisingly, LaDainian Tomlinson had a monster game, running for 172 yards on 18 carries and scoring three of his 31 touchdowns that season. His 41-yard scoring sprint gave San Diego the lead for good in the third quarter. Kellen Winslow Jr. returned to the scene of his father's heroics and caught 11 passes for 78 yards in the defeat.
Out or Questionable for San Diego: S Eric Weddle (knee) is out; DE Luis Castillo (calf), C Nick Hardwick (ankle) and LB Shawn Merriman (foot) are doubtful.
Out or Questionable for Cleveland: RB Lawrence Vickers (hamstring) and LB Kamerion Wimbley (knee) are questionable.
What to watch for the Chargers: It's a good thing Moses Clevealand posted up on the shore of Lake Erie instead of a thousand miles or so westward. Because then the Browns might be in the AFC West, and they'd have to deal with LaDainian Tomlinson twice a year. LT has tormented the Browns, averaging a lusty 146.3 rushing yards and scoring nine touchdowns in just four games against Cleveland. He has rushed for more than 100 yards every time he has faced the Browns and in a 2003 victory rolled up an even 200.
100 yards have been impossible to come by for the future Hall-of-Famer so far this season. In nine games LT has yet to run for more than 96 yards; indeed, he hasn't topped the 100-yard mark since Week 8 of the 2008 season. Since his otherworldly 2006 season, when he ran for 1,815 yards, tore off 5.2 yards a pop and scored 31 touchdowns, LT's numbers have been on a steady downward slope. His yardage total and yards-per-carry have gone down in every year. He enters Sunday's game with just 497 yards and is averaging 3.4 yards per carry- both on pace to be career lows. The wear-and-tear of 3,325 career touches has eroded the skills of this great player.
But there's something about the Browns defense- perhaps a lack of speed, lack of skill and lack of sound tackling- that puts the spring back in the legs of running backs. Cleveland is 29th in the NFL in run defense and last week allowed Larry Johnson to top the 100-yard mark for the first time since Week 4 of the 2008 season. LaDainian Tomlinson may not be the same running back who terrorized the rest of the league for most of the decade, but he'll have a chance to drink deep of the elixir on Sunday- and break a 17-game stretch without a 100-yard rushing performance, easily the longest of his career.
What to watch for the Browns: It's the same old question- is there any way the Browns can keep it competitive? After a high-powered showing against Detroit the Cleveland offense reverted to form last week against Cincinnati, while the defense yielded more than 200 yards on the ground for the third time this season. San Diego, meanwhile, might be playing the best football in the NFL right now. The Chargers have won six straight and outscored the Broncos and Chargers 75-17 in the last two weeks. Statistically San Diego isn't all that impressive- 15th in total offense, 13th in total defense- but they are 3rd in scoring offense and +8 in turnover margin.
Cleveland's woes have been especially acute at home. Dating back to last season's Monday Night victory over the Giants, the Browns have lost a club-record nine consecutive games at CBS.
Good Past Win over the Chargers- October 7, 2001: Tim Couch and Kevin Johnson provided late heroics as the Browns edged the Chargers, 20-16, in one of the most thrilling victories for the team since the Return. With Cleveland trailing late in the fourth quarter Couch directed a 50-yard scoring drive, first finding KJ on a clutch third-down play to move the chains, than hitting his favorite target on a gorgeous over-the-shoulder touchdown toss to put the Browns ahead with just over a minute to play.* The win moved Cleveland to 3-1 in '01 and gave them as many wins as they had the entire 2000 season.
*- As maligned as Couch was during his career, his play in clutch situations shouldn't be overlooked. He led the Browns from behind in the fourth quarter nine times in four seasons and was instrumental in Cleveland winning a bunch of games that, frankly, they had no business winning. Couch was most comfortable operating out of two-minute, spread-formation sets- the style of offense he employed during his glory days at the University of Kentucky and in catch-up situations with the Browns.
Bad Past Loss to the Chargers- November 15, 1992: It was cold and snowy at the Stadium but the warm-weather visitors from San Diego didn't seem to mind as the Chargers fought back to steal one from the Browns, 14-13. Cleveland led 13-7 with just over two minutes left when Eric Turner committed a cardinal sin- he let Chargers receiver Anthony Miller get behind him. Stan Humphries hit Miller with a 45-yard bomb to give San Diego a lead it would not relinquish. The Browns' final opportunity to pull the game out of the fire ended when Eric Metcalf fumbled on the San Diego 38 with less than a minute left.
Next Week for Both Teams: Cleveland hosts Pittsburgh; San Diego is at Dallas
Trivia: LaDainian Tomlinson has 134 rushing touchdowns since entering the league in 2001. The Browns as a team have 81 rushing touchdowns since re-entering the league in 1999.