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Browns v. Chargers | 5 things to watch

Posted: 8:01 PM, Oct 04, 2015
Updated: 2015-10-04 20:01:31-04

Josh McCown or Johnny Manziel?

San Diego or Los Angeles? 

Those are the debates raging in Cleveland and San Diego, whose NFL teams collide Sunday at aging Qualcomm Stadium.

This could be the final season of the NFL in San Diego if Chargers ownership gets its way and bolts for the riches it believes await up the freeway. The Chargers' early play has taken some attention away from the LA threat, but not in a good way.

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The Chargers (1-2) were manhandled in consecutive losses at Cincinnati and Minnesota. The first quarter of the season is approaching, which has some wondering if this is a must-win game for the Chargers and Philip Rivers, who was pounded so hard last Sunday he was taken out for his own good.

"It's still early in the year,"' Rivers said. "I know we keep saying that, I keep saying that. Y'all know I'm going to be optimistic no matter what happens, but I do think we can do everything we want to do and get this thing going. We've just got to get it started here on Sunday. I don't believe in those unless you're truly eliminated."

In Cleveland, coach Mike Pettine is defending his decision to start McCown over Johnny Football, who led the Browns to a win in Week 2 but returned to his backup role last week.

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"Are we going to have one thousand percent agreement on how we're using players? No," he said. "It falls into coaches coach and players have their jobs to do. And are they going to have their opinions? Certainly. I'm confident there is no rift in the locker room. We always talk about controlling the controllables and external debate is something we don't control, so we're confident in our plan and we'll move ahead forward with it."

Here are some things to watch for when the Browns visit the Chargers.

QUARTERBACK QUARREL: With Cleveland fans seemingly divided over who should start at quarterback, McCown needs a strong performance against the Chargers to quiet the cries for the Browns to play Manziel, who led the Browns to a win over Tennessee in Week 2. McCown started poorly last week in a loss to Oakland, rallied the Browns in the second half but threw a pick in the final minute to end Cleveland's comeback. The 36-year-old suffered a concussion in the opener, bruised his throwing hand last week but believes Cleveland's offense is getting healthier with every snap. "We are getting in sync," he said

JOHNNY BASEBALL: The San Diego Padres drafted Manziel in the 28th round in 2014 as a publicity stunt. "I didn't even know that he played baseball at that point. They sold some jerseys out of it," right-hander Ian Kennedy said. "I know he's got probably more Manziel jerseys out there than Ian Kennedy jerseys. That's what I'm guessing." Manziel worked out at Petco Park the previous January and had taken batting practice with the team in 2013. Will Johnny Football help beat the Chargers? "Absolutely not," said Padres bench coach Dave Roberts, a former major leaguer who went to high school in northern San Diego County. "I'm a huge Chargers fan. A Charger fan to a fault. Slim chance."

NO DEFENSE FOR DEFENSE: The Browns spent the offseason addressing a porous run defense that remains full of holes. Cleveland is allowing 158.3 yards rushing per game, the highest average in the league. The Browns were No. 32 in rushing defense last season and thought the addition of massive rookie nose tackle Danny Shelton and more depth on their defensive line would make them better. So far, it hasn't and Pettine bemoaned 14 missed tackles in last week's loss to Oakland. "It is something clearly alarming to be at that number and then the amount of yardage that came with it," he said.

SLOW STARTING BOLTS: The Chargers have fallen behind by nine or more points in eight straight games, going 3-5. "I think it puts a strain on both sides," Rivers said. "We haven't yet flipped the script where we put them in a must-throw situation and us in a real balanced, control-the game attack. That's not a good thing.

O LINE WOES: Depth will be an issue again for the Chargers. Several linemen were injured in the loss at Minnesota and some could miss this game. The Chargers signed veteran center J.D. Walton and promoted tackle Tyreek Burwell from the team's practice squad.

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