Cleveland Browns need to let Nick Chubb, ground game beat Steelers

Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) eyes down Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton (28) as he rushes during the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]Browns Extras 13
Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) eyes down Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton (28) as he rushes during the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]Browns Extras 13 /

The Cleveland Browns need to be willing to let their best offensive player win the game for them, namely Nick Chubb.

Is it too much to ask that if the Cleveland Browns running backs are averaging over eight yards per carry versus the Steelers, then the running backs should get a few more than 21 carries versus 43 dropbacks for the quarterback, as was the case last week versus the Packers?

We can argue about whose fault it is, but the Green Bay game is a singularity in terms of the failure to make an in-game adjustment. It could not be more clear that the ground game was hugely successful and the passing game was a major disaster.

Look, perhaps the team was intimidated by playing the awesome Packers on the frozen tundra and all that, and felt they had to score 50 points in order to win. Perhaps their game plan called for them to sling the ball all over the field and throw desperation bombs into double coverage.

But shouldn’t the Browns have been aware that Nick Chubb is their best player, and that he was having incredible success on the ground? In particular, Joel Bitonio, playing out of position at left tackle, was looking like his pal Joe Thomas and dominating at run blocking.

He was playing like a road grader and the Packers were playing like dirt. Nick Chubb was blasting the Packers and there was nothing they could do about it.

Cleveland was even more successful when they gave the ball to D’Ernest Johnson. Johnson had only four carries but was good for 58 yards, an average of 14.50 yards per carry. What’s so bad about that? Well, go grab some bench, D’Ernest.

The Browns didn’t react to their success on the ground, granting only 17 carries for Chubb in a must-win game and four for DEJ. They were pretty much okay with five sacks and four INTs and a few other balls that were way off the mark.

This was insane. We can argue about whose fault it was – your choice between coach Kevin Stefanski, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, and quarterback Baker Mayfield – but the passing game was not working and it could not have been more clear that the running game was in high gear. The Browns evidently could not see that.

Related Story. Is Kevin Stefanski second guessing Baker Mayfield?. light

Will the same thing happen versus Pittsburgh in another must-win game with the playoffs still a possibility? Sure, let’s plan to sling it, throw into double coverage, or whatever the brain trust thinks makes sense versus a still-tough Steeler defense. But if Chubb and Johnson prove to be capable of running all over them, can we please make an adjustment and give them the ball a little more often?

By the way, about that passing game, perhaps an analogy between Baker Mayfield and Peyton Manning is in order. Recall the 2015 season, when Manning was battling nerve damage which left his fingers numb and had thrown nine TDs and 17 INTs on the season.

Manning kept on trying to make the throws he used to make because he would not admit that his injury was limiting him. In reality, he just was not capable. So he was benched in favor of Brock Osweiler. Eventually, however, he got his old job back, but resolved himself to be a dink and dunk specialist, got the interceptions under control, and did just enough for his team to win the Super Bowl.

Speaking of adjustments, the Browns are incredibly slow to realize that they do not have a two-headed monster at running back with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. They have a three-headed monster with ugly duckling D’Ernest Johnson forcing his way into the mix, especially with Hunt questionable versus Pittsburgh. The Browns have had this guy for three years and his career yards per carry is still higher than Jim Brown’s.

This season he has only 70 carries for 398 yards, 5.69 yards per carry, 5.47 yards per carry for his career versus 5.22 for Jim Brown. Now obviously no one is as good as James Nathaniel Brown, but the fact that anyone can post comparable stats even in a small data sample at least should catch the coach’s eye.

When you talk about chemistry, this fellow has chemistry with the offensive line. Has there ever been a back that uses his blockers as intelligently as DEJ? He looks like freaking Leroy Kelly back there. Everybody can see that except the coaching staff. Why not feed this hungry ballplayer until such time as he comes to earth?

Versus the Steelers, if the Browns run left they have Joel Bitonio and Michael Dunn (or Jed Wills if he can come back) versus Alex Highsmith and old friend Joe Schobert. Running right they have Blake Hance and Pancake Teller versus T.J. Watt and Robert Spillane.

On the other hand, Cameron Sutton and Joe Haden may not be fast enough to cover Donovan Peoples-Jones and Anthony Schwartz in man-to-man coverage, though they might match up better against the possession receivers like Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins.

In summary, it’s cool if Sunday’s game plan once again calls for long bombs into double coverage or whatever they think is appropriate. But if that’s not working, and the running backs are averaging eight yards per carry, perhaps they will notice it, and consider an in-game adjustment to their genius game plan and resort to the run a little more often this time.

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Follow Peyton Manning’s example and don’t be so stubborn.