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NFL Preview - San Diego (3-3) at Cleveland (1-6)



By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor

(Sports Network) - If you thought a bye week was the cure for all ills, you thought wrong. But you can't blame the San Diego Chargers for hoping.

Coach Norv Turner and Co. were riding a wave of giddy momentum through the first four weeks of the season -- winning three times and establishing an early lead in the AFC West -- but they'll be trying to right the collective ship this week when they head to northeast Ohio to face the Cleveland Browns.

The Chargers gave up 17 straight points to lose to the previously winless New Orleans Saints in Week 5, then gave up 35 straight in the second half to erase a 24-0 lead in a loss to Peyton Manning and the division rival Denver Broncos in Week 6.

That win let the Broncos tie the Chargers atop the West heading into last week's bye.

"When you lose it's rough, especially in a game where you had a big lead and so much at stake," said Philip Rivers, who threw four interceptions against Denver.

Adding insult to injury, Fox Sports reported that San Diego is being investigated by the league for allegedly using a banned substance against Denver. The report claimed an equipment manager came on to the field with an illegal substance on hand towels and refused to hand over the towels to a line judge, and that skin-colored or clear tape was found after officials made him empty his pockets.

Turner insists the query is about the hand towels, not substances.

"Nobody in this organization has used Stickum (a substance banned since 1981) in any game," he said. "The question involved a towel that has been used by this organization for over 10 years. It's used by a lot of teams in this league. The towel is used to dry the balls, dry the gloves that the players wear and their arms. The league is looking into the towel. That's about where it's at."

Of on-field concern, the Chargers have committed 13 turnovers in the last four games and Rivers has been sacked 12 times. More short passing routes could be in the cards for the QB, who's only 2-for-12 with three interceptions on throws beyond 30 yards.

Cleveland is No. 1 in the AFC with 10 interceptions and has 18 sacks.

Its offense was making progress behind rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden and committed no turnovers in a Week 7 loss to Indianapolis, but the Browns could be without rookie Trent Richardson (rib), who leads the team with 348 rush yards and 24 receptions.

Richardson ran eight times for eight yards last week.

"If he's ready to play, he'll play," coach Pat Shurmur said. "If we see that this is bothering him to the point where he can't perform, then we'll make those decisions as we go."

Sans Richardson, it's Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya to the ball- carrying rescue.

San Diego rush defense is top notch, allowing a league-best 71.2 yards per game, which could prompt Weeden to repeat an effort against the Colts in which he hit nine receivers.

Greg Little and Josh Gordon had touchdowns.

Weeden has been sacked just three times in four games, but left guard Jason Pinkston was shelved for the season on injured reserve after developing a blood-clotting issue in his lungs. He was released from the Cleveland Clinic Wednesday. John Greco started against Indianapolis, when the Browns rushed for 55 yards.

"I thought John stepped in and did OK," Shurmur told said. "Anytime you remove a piece though, there's a little bit of getting used to."

San Diego has won four straight and nine of 11 against Cleveland, including a 30-23 triumph in Cleveland on Dec, 23, 2009, when Rivers threw for 373 yards and Antonio Gates caught eight passes for 167. Gates had 81 yards against Denver with two touchdowns.

Turner is 1-1 in two meetings with the Browns. Shurmur has never faced the Chargers.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Long one of the NFL's most successful and prolific passers, Rivers and the Chargers are only 19th in the league through the air through six games with a 229-yard average.

That may change against Cleveland. Though opportunistic in terms of interceptions and respectably successful on the pass rush, the Browns have been troubled when QBs actually manage to stay erect -- completing 62.5 percent of their throws for 276.9 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Upfront, watch the clash between Browns end Jabaal Sheard and Chargers tackle Jeromey Clary. The more pressure Rivers is under, the more erratic he becomes.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

If not at the top, the Chargers are at least near the top of the mountain when it comes to maddeningly inconsistent teams. And rather than simply week to week, the trend is now manifesting itself within individual games -- as the great start/bad finish losses to the Saints and Broncos attest.

But in this one, given the difference in talent - and the chance that Richardson will either be absent or at least slowed -- the chances that the Browns can hang for four quarters is fleeting at best.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chargers 30, Browns 17

10/25 10:53:14 ET