Team Coverage

Browns know they must be 'locked in' to battle against Justin Herbert

The Chargers are coming to Cleveland with the top-ranked passing offense as the Browns look to correct late-game struggles on defense

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The Browns don't need any reminders about the challenges they'll face Sunday against the Chargers.

Exactly 364 days before then, Cleveland traveled to Los Angeles and were dealt one of the toughest losses of the 2021 season. The Browns scored 42 points, their highest offensive output of the season, but there was one big problem: They allowed the Chargers to score 47 points.

The two teams combined for six second-half touchdowns, the final two of which were scored by the Chargers and stopped the Browns from winning their fourth-straight game. The loss was only Cleveland's second of the year, but it foreshadowed a bumpy road for the rest of the season — the Browns lost seven of their remaining 12 games and missed the playoffs.

"That was a very tough game," defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. "In the first half, I thought we played really well. We were big and explosive, but in the end, it didn't work out. In the second half, it was a wild, wild game."

The Browns are hoping to avoid a similar game defensively Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, and all players would agree that the challenge is a big one.

Not much has changed about the Chargers a year later. If anything, the offense appears to be even more explosive with QB Justin Herbert, who leads the NFL with 1,250 passing yards and has totaled nine touchdowns and two interceptions. No team in the league has gained more passing yards per game than the Chargers with 307.3.

Herbert has topped 330 passing yards in two games this season and has thrown multiple touchdowns in three games. The 24-year-old has arguably been the best quarterback in the league to open the year, and the Browns will likely need to play their best defensive game of the year to stop him.

"They're No. 1 in passing, so if there's a game that you've got to get up for and be locked in for, it's this one," safety John Johnson III said Wednesday. "We need our best effort from the secondary for this one."

Check out photos of players and coaches working to prepare for the teams regular season game against the Los Angeles Chargers

The Browns defense ranks a respectable 13th in the NFL in pass defense, but much of that success has been pass clouded by struggles in the fourth quarter.

Cleveland has allowed a league-worst 12.5 points per game in the final 15 minutes, and the late-game pains are one big reason why the Browns are 2-2 and not 4-0 — both losses happened after opponents scored game-winning points in the final minutes.

The Browns must improve in the fourth quarter for them to not only improve their odds against Herbert, but other high-powered offenses such as the Ravens, Bengals, Dolphins, Bills and Buccaneers — all opponents the Browns will play in the next two months.

"Just staying locked in for 60 minutes and just having that killer mentality," safety Grant Delpit said. "We have a standard to uphold if we want to be a top-five or No. 1 defense. We have to stick together and play four quarters."

The group needs all the help they can find, and they might just get that this week on the injury front.

Pro Bowl edge rusher Myles Garrett returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since he was in a car accident on Sept. 26. He missed Week 4 against the Falcons due to a sprained shoulder and strained biceps and other bruises from the accident, but when asked if Garrett will be available Sunday, Woods said "I think so."

DE Jadeveon Clowney also didn't rule himself out for the game, and CB Greedy Williams practiced for the first time since the season began Wednesday after he was designated for return from injured reserve.

Neither player is a lock to play Sunday, but either of their returns would bring a lift to the defense.

No matter who's available, the Browns know they have a formidable test ahead, and they're looking to avoid a similar result from the one that transpired against the Chargers almost exactly one year ago.

"I don't want it to be that way," Woods said. "I hope it's not that way, but you have to play for 60 minutes."

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