The Cleveland Browns now have a loaded running back room that can be modeled after how the New Orleans use their running backs.
There were many questions brought up following the Cleveland Browns announcement for the signing of running back Kareem Hunt. Most of the questions raised were why the Browns were willing to sign a player with video evidence of him assaulting a woman? And those are questions that need to be asked.
But once looking past the off-field situation with Hunt leads to questions about what it means for the Browns on the field. Finding a dynamic running back was not a necessity for the Browns this off-season considering they have Nick Chubb.
Chubb proved to be an explosive runner that can create chunk plays between the tackles or off the edge. And despite not having much of an opportunity to do so in college, he proved that he can make plays catching the ball out of the backfield.
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With Chubb as the starting running back and Duke Johnson as the backup, there did not appear to be significant playing time available for another running back. But general manager John Dorsey pursues every avenue to improve his roster, so he decided to sign Hunt.
The duo of Chubb and Hunt instantly becomes one of the best running back pairs in the entire league. No matter who is in the game at running back, defenses will have to focus on the backfield because both backs can create big plays out of nothing.
However, defenses may not have to worry about this running back tandem for a large portion of the 2019 regular season. Hunt is still under NFL investigation for multiple off-field incidents and it is expected he will receive a lengthy suspension. No one knows how the league will handle the suspension, so it is hard to say exactly how long Hunt’s potential suspension will be.
But when Chubb and Hunt are able to hit the field at the same time, how will the Browns split the workload between the two talented running backs? The most obvious way is to model their running back situation after the New Orleans Saints.
With those two players in the backfield, they have helped the Saints become one of the toughest offenses to slow down. Both players can hurt a defense running the ball or catching passes out of the backfield, although Ingram does not see much usage as a receiver. And since they are splitting time, both players are typically fresh in the fourth quarter of games.
Last season, Kamara rushed for 883 yards and 14 touchdowns on 194 carries. He also had 81 receptions for 709 yards and four touchdowns. Ingram played in only 12 games, but rushed for 645 yards and six touchdowns on 138 carries. He also caught 21 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown.
On a per game basis, Kamara averaged 17.2 touches per game and Ingram averaged 13.25 touches per game. The run game was incredibly effective between the two, as the running backs combined for an average of 4.6 yards per carry.
If the Browns can model their running back usage after the Saints offense, then the Cleveland offense could be similarly effective. By keeping both Chubb and Hunt fresh, the Browns will be able to carry their rushing attack deep into games, causing defenses to wear down. Combine that with a passing attack led by quarterback Baker Mayfield and defenses will have trouble slowing down both aspects of the Browns offense.
It will also help limit the potential for injuries for the running backs. Because Hunt will miss a portion of the season, staying in game shape will not be as easy. When he returns from a potential suspension, easing him back into things would be the prudent approach for the Browns.
Chubb suffered a brutal knee injury during the 2015 season, tearing his LCL, PCL, and MCL. He was still able to return from the injury and be an effective running back. But if the Browns want to keep Chubb healthy for his long-term future, then cutting back his carries at the beginning of his career will save his legs down the road.
By splitting time with Hunt, it does not force Chubb to be a workhorse back. By the end of the 2018 season, Chubb was not performing at the same level he was earlier in the season. Having Hunt take some carries off Chubb could improve his effectiveness for an entire season.
The Browns will have plenty of time to figure out a game-plan for their running backs in the 2019 season. With Freddie Kitchens’ creativity, he will be able to find ways to put Chubb and Hunt in favorable situations.
How the Browns handle the Hunt situation will be one of the biggest story-lines of the 2019 season. But how they insert him into the offense will be another story worth following. If the Browns can implement the Saints approach to handling multiple talented running backs, it could pay off for the team in the short-term and the long-term.