A heavy dose of Nick Chubb seems to be a safe bet for the Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns are finally, after 18 long seasons/years, back in the postseason. That was the then-longest run without being in the postseason in the NFL, and it was, frankly, a running joke.
That was completely warranted, too. Fortunately, though, after an 11-5 season in 2020, and Sunday’s Week 17 game proving to be way too close for comfort against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were serving several key players, the Browns are back in the AFC Playoffs. And lord knows the fan base and city was uber-deserving of that.
Albeit for the Browns, they’ll be without several coaches in this one, such as head coach Kevin Stefanski, who tested positive for COVID-19, per a Browns team statement on Tuesday. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will be filling as head coach in Cleveland’s Wild Card matchup at the Steelers on Sunday night. And in terms of further reported details, you can view those here, via DPD’s Nick Pedone.
One key one of note is also that Cleveland will be without outstanding left guard Joel Bitonio, and diddo for wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge; both reportedly tested positive for COVID-19, too, per Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network. And the Browns announced they’ve placed reserve center Nick Harris, who has filled in some at right guard for Wyatt Teller, on injured reserve on Tuesday, too, and we’ll see as far as who can fill in for Bitonio.
Nonetheless, the Browns are in the postseason, anyway, as the No. 6 seed, and that’s an accomplishment in itself. And again, they’ll be at the “Big Ketchup Bottle” as ESPN’s Chris Berman would say, in Heinz Field.
So what’s a major point of emphasis in that one that jumps out, then?
A heavy dose of Nick Chubb for the Browns is a safe bet
We know what Nick Chubb is capable of for Cleveland, and though he had been bottled up at the New York Giants and then New York Jets, he was effective versus Pittsburgh on Sunday. Chubb had 14 rushes for 108 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown run on Cleveland’s opening drive. But he still had 13 rushes for 61 yards otherwise, obviously.
Chubb was largely effective when he was given touches on Sunday, albeit the Steelers will have T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward this go-round. And we know that those two are difference-makers in both the run and pass game.
That said, in order to help Cleveland’s defense, which has had its struggles, we should see a heavy dose of Nick Chubb on Sunday night. The Browns defense will be without Olivier Vernon, who reportedly ruptured his Achilles tendon in Cleveland’s Week 17 W, for further context.
To be clear, though, the Browns will need Baker Mayfield, Jarvis Landry, and others to do their part through the air, even without Bitonio, to aid the running game. We know that.
In any case, considering the defense will be up against it with Pittsburgh’s weapons and Denzel Ward potentially out (COVID-19), Chubb and the offense need to assert their will.
25-plus touches for Chubb would seem to be feasible, and with his ability to hit the home run, that’d give the Browns a good shot at a victory here, if there can be balance. That’s with offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt calling plays, per a report from Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.
Getting Chubb a few screens throughout could aid in perhaps slowing down Watt and Pittsburgh’s league-best pass rush (both in terms of pressures and sacks); quick game with Kareem Hunt/Landry could maybe a bit as well.
Moreover, getting Chubb the crucial carries in this one is paramount, whereas getting Hunt more so involved as a receiver would be more sensible here. And for what it’s worth, Stefanski was trying to work both Hunt and Chubb in last week, via 19 News’ Tony Zarrella.
That seemingly led to Chubb being saved more, if you will, for a potential postseason run/game now to be this week.
So, the translation there: a steady dose of Chubb, one would imagine, is likely to be in the cards, and with Van Pelt calling the plays in this sense. And that could very well give the Browns a good chance to get an elusive postseason victory here for the first time since the 1994 season and Bill Belichick was then their head coach.
We’ll have to see of course, but if Chubb and the o-line, again sans Bitonio, can get it rolling, that would be huge for Mayfield for the red zone/staying in second/third and manageable and could aid the defense.
Rest assured, Chubb should be fresh and ready to roll here. And let’s hope Chubb, who even while having missed four games this season due to an MCL injury, was second in 20-plus yard runs and fourth in the league in 10-plus yard runs, can pop a few big ones here.