Chargers inconsistent run defense faces challenge vs. Browns

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Chargers overhauled their defense during the offseason after being one of the worst units last year against the run.

Four games into the season, it remains a work in progress.

The Chargers are giving up 109.8 yards per game on the ground, tied for 14th in the league. But they have also been giving up big gains at inopportune times.

“Not good enough,” defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day said.

Los Angeles faces its biggest run-stopping challenge on Sunday at Cleveland, as Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt lead a ground game that is second in the league, averaging 187.3 yards.

Chubb and Hunt combined for 222 yards and three touchdowns in last year’s game. Hunt’s 8-yard score gave Cleveland a 42-35 lead with 4:45 remaining in the fourth quarter before the Chargers rallied for a 47-42 win.

Los Angeles’ flaw in its past three games is that it has allowed at least one run of more than 50 yards. Last week at Houston, it was a 75-yard touchdown run by Dameon Pierce in the second quarter.

All three big runs have had one thing in common — they have been because of breakdowns in the perimeter.

Coach Brandon Staley termed all three as “team-oriented explosion runs.”

“We haven’t had good enough support at the point of attack. Then, we didn’t knock the runs down,” Staley said. “The one against Jacksonville (a 50-yard touchdown by James Robinson) was different because it was a short-yardage run, and you have everybody up there. The Kansas City and the Texans runs are more similar. We need to knock the run down at the last line of defense. That’s what needs to happen.”

Staley added that trying to defend the Browns running attack can be difficult because they have a lot of variety in how they run the ball.

“I think it challenges us to be technique sound and follow our keys. Maybe some teams give you hints about how they do things, but they do a good job keeping it balanced,” Joseph-Day said. “You can’t tee off on them. You have to play sound football.”

The Chargers can point to one area where they have seen improvement from their run defense. They have 21 stops for no gain or negative yards, compared to 10 through four games last year.

“One run can make you feel a lot different about your performance. I have to do a better job coaching,” Staley said.

NOTES: WR Keenan Allen did not practice because of his lingering hamstring injury and could miss a fourth straight game. … K Dustin Hopkins was limited because of a right quad injury from last week’s game at Houston.

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