Chargers must contain Cleveland Browns’ running game

After two victories and two losses and some seriously mixed results on the field, the question was a natural one: Where do you think the Chargers’ defensive play against the opposition’s ground game stands going into Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns?

Defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day’s answer was succinct.

“Not good enough,” he said.

The Chargers’ opponents – the Las Vegas Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans – have combined to gain 439 yards on 81 carries for an average of 5.4 yards per carry.

The numbers have been inflated by three long runs in three games. Since you can’t simply toss out runs of 52 yards by Kansas City’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire, 50 yards for a touchdown by Jacksonville’s James Robinson and 75 yards for a TD by Houston’s Dameon Pierce, the Chargers simply have to live with the results, as frustrating as they are.

“In all of those runs, they’ve been to the perimeter,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “We have to have better perimeter run support. That’s where it starts. There are going to be some plays that get to the perimeter. We have to make sure that we support the run better on the perimeter.”

Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns awaits the Chargers on Sunday.

So does fellow running back Kareem Hunt.

Chubb rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown in Cleveland’s victory last Sunday over the Atlanta Falcons. He has averaged 115 yards per game through the first four games of the season. As a team, the Chargers haven’t rushed for more than 100 yards in a game this season.

“Honestly, stop the run, try to stop the run,” Joseph-Day said of the Chargers’ defensive focus Sunday. “A guy like Chubb is really talented. It’s impossible to slow a guy like him down. He does a really good job staying on his feet. He breaks a lot of tackles. Really talented player.”

Hunt has topped 60 total yards from scrimmage in each of the Browns’ first four games. He had 61 yards rushing and 28 yards receiving the last time the teams played, a wild 47-42 victory for the Chargers over the Browns in Week 5 last year at SoFi Stadium.

“Even though they’re different, I would say they’re the same,” Joseph-Day said when asked to compare Chubb and Hunt. “They’re both very elite. Get into open space. Good at making cuts. Good at breaking tackles. It’s like a one-two punch. They’re both elite. It challenges us.”

Chubb, listed at 5-foot-11, 227 pounds, can be difficult to bring down. He’s strong, with a low center of gravity that makes it tough to arm-tackle him once he gets his feet moving, breaking tackles and leaving a trail of bodies behind him as he picks up steam into the secondary.

“That’s how he runs,” Chargers defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill said. “You can’t tackle him high, and most people usually slip down to his legs, anyway. He’s a guy that can break tackles and he can finish. He can finish on the long runs. We have our hands full with both of those backs. It’s going to take a team effort. We have to do a great job of leveraging the ball at all levels.”

Joseph-Day will be one of many called upon to attempt to slow Chubb.

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After all, Joseph-Day has performed as well as anticipated after signing as a free agent after helping the Rams become Super Bowl champions last season. He’s made eight solo tackles and assisted on seven others. He’s had one sack and four tackles for losses, one behind team leader Khalil Mack.

“He’s a leader,” Hill said when asked about Joseph-Day’s impact on the Chargers so far. “He’s vibrant. Every time that he is out at practice, I feel his presence when he’s out there. I hear him. He gives you a lot from the front perspective, but he also gives you a lot as a leader on this defense.”