Chargers Week 5 X-Factors: Can They Keep The Momentum Going?

The Chargers are finally coming back to life and looking to keep it going in Week 5 against the Browns. Here are the X-Factors.

Amanda-Marie Howard
Chargers Week 5 X-Factors: Can They Keep The Momentum Going?

We finally started seeing some signs of life from the Chargers last week against Houston. Justin Herbert throwing for over 300 years? Check. A sack from Khalil Mack? Check. Rushing touchdowns from Austin Ekeler? Check. Though the game wasn’t perfect, it seems like the offseason message from Brandon Staley of being multiple and deep in every position is finally paying off as some players stepped up in a big way to help out the team. Here are some x-factors below that the Chargers should keep in mind to keep their momentum going against the Browns in Week 5.

Run Defense For The Win

Cutting off the run game will be critical for the Chargers in this next game. Chubb is arguably the best pure runner in the league and ranks at or near the top of several rushing categories including, touchdowns (five), first downs generated (21), and explosive runs (15). The Browns love to get him outside the tackle box where he has been a soul crusher. Kareem Hunt has also been contributing to the run game like his usual self with 200 rushing yards through the first four games as Chubb’s wingman. Hunt has seven explosive runs and has generated 13 first downs, both of which rank in the top 15 at the position.

The Chargers will need to be prepared to cut off Chubb and Hunt at the point of attack if they want any chance of competing in this game defensively. They cannot afford a repeat of last year when Chubb and Hunt combined for over 220 yards rushing.

Austin Johnson, Sebastian Joseph-Day, and Khalil Mack were the foundation of Brandon Staley’s off-season plans in order to be better against the run in 2022. So far, those three players are playing very well in this regard. Mack has an elite run defense grade, while Johnson and Joseph-Day each have solid grades as well.

Johnson in particular has been a real bright spot so far this year. His run defense has also been fairly strong throughout the last few years, never really falling below a grade in the fifties, according to PFF. During a training camp press conference Matt Feiler remarked how strong Johnson is and how he has been a “really powerful guy” and that seemed to be the theme of most of Johnson’s practices heading into the season.

Outside of their main trio, they’ll need other players along the front to show up well. Fifth-round pick Otito Ogbonnia was a surprise scratch last week in Houston but he’s been solid for where he was selected in the draft. He has three run stops and a good run stop percentage of 9.4%. They’ll need his big body in the middle to clog running lanes against the Browns’ elite interior offensive line. He’s certainly not needed all the time as Joseph-Day is his starting counterpart, but with the way injuries are going on this team, I’m looking at everyone in each position, no matter the order. As he gets more snaps, I hope he’ll keep improving and look like the player we loved at UCLA.

We’ve Got A Runner!

Joe Lombardi during his press conference heading into Week 4 talked about how they needed to be more efficient in the running game and the team really took that to heart during this last week. It seemed that Ekeler ate his Wheaties that morning as he got two rushing touchdowns, one receiving touchdown, and 60 rushing yards. Everyone was getting down on Ekeler in the last few weeks but he’s definitely gotten his mojo back. Prior to the Browns’ game against the Falcons, The Athletic remarked that “the Browns rank 28th in run defense, 19th in pass coverage, 29th in tackling, and 22nd in overall special teams.” After their last game, the Browns are last in run defense and tackling grades on PFF, and on special teams, they rank 24th. The Browns haven’t quite found their groove in terms of run defense and that means Ekeler and this Chargers running back core can certainly use that to their advantage.

If defensive ends like Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney do end up playing, they are going to be barreling down on Herbert, so it’ll be more advantageous to get the ball out quickly with handoffs. Linebacker Sione Takitaki, who’s done well in terms of run defense according to PFF year after year and ranks third for the Browns in run defense this year, will also be one to watch out for.

I’m not completely sold that Sony Michel is making much of an impact on the running game, as it hasn’t shown yet in the stats so far or the game tape. I’m more sold on Joshua Kelley being that second back for now and would really like to see what Isaiah Spiller can do. Ekeler is always going to be the reliable target but it seems like we’re still in the second and third running back competition arena that we were in during the offseason. And my money is still on Kelley and Spiller over Michel.

Contain The Quarterback

Jacoby Brissett has the third-most rushing yards of his team in the first few games of the season and has generated 56 total yards on scrambles. The Chargers will have to put enough pressure on Brissett, as they did with Patrick Mahomes, to not only keep him in the pocket but also make sure he doesn’t connect with some of his receiving targets like Amari Cooper and David Njoku, who are the top receivers on the team. Mack should be able to help with this but this should also be the game where Chris Rumph makes his presence known. Rumph worked on his pass rushing during the offseason and it’s time that some of that translates in season so that he and Mack can make a fearsome twosome while Bosa is out.

Something else that could help with that pressure is putting Derwin James on the defensive line. One of the more memorable clips from last season was James coming off the line and sacking Baker Mayfield before he even had a chance to see him. According to PFF, James played the most snaps on the defensive line during the Browns game out of all the games he played that season, so that may be a great option to add a third counterattack on Brissett and really keep him contained. Morgan Fox will also be another weapon to use as he came out strong during the Texans game with his second sack of the season along with three hurries. He was all over Davis Mills and it was great to see that spark from him that’s been dormant so far this season. I’m excited to see what next week brings and am keeping my fingers crossed for another sack from him.

Chargers Week 5 X-Factors: Can They Keep The Momentum Going?

Chargers Week 5 X-Factors: Can They Keep The Momentum Going? Photo Via Ty Nowell