Workloads for Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt way up from 2020; time to parlay that into signature Browns win
Granted, losing kills the mood, but isn't the moment-to-moment of a shootout like Browns-Chargers on Sunday tons of fun?
"I wouldn't say fun," Kareem Hunt said Monday, laughing at the word, "but it's definitely intense. At the end of the day, it's who wants it more?
"That was a tough game. I don't think we should have lost."
Beating the undefeated Cardinals is fun the Browns need in the wake of a 47-42 loss.
Effective useage of Hunt and Nick Chubb might be as important as any factor in the game.
Coach Kevin Stefanski spent the offseason imagining how those two could go from dangerous to dominant. That has meant more work for both of them in the Browns' 3-2 start.
In the final five games last season, including two in the playoffs, Chubb ran 71 times for 331 yards. Through five games this season, he has run 90 times for 523 yards.
Hunt, in turn, rushed for 149 yards on 35 carries in the final five games last season. He has racked up 295 yards on 55 carries through five games in 2021.
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Chubb was at his best against the Chargers with 161 yards on 21 carries. Hunt lit up the Chicago Bears in the last home game, running 10 times for 81 yards and catching six passes for 74 yards in a 26-6 win.
Together, they generated 259 yards on 39 touches at Los Angeles, a main reason the team scored 42 points. The downside was a few key plays that didn't work.
The Browns took over leading 42-41 with just over three minutes left. Stefanski made two interesting decisions, one, going with Hunt rather than Chubb; two, sending in a third-and-9 draw play on which Hunt gained just a few yards.
Chubb's last run of the night had gained 24 yards with six minutes left. All four runs after that were by Hunt.
Earlier in the second half, Chubb broke a 52-yard touchdown run, but Hunt played he entire the next series, which ended in a punt. Chubb opened the series after that with a 1-yard gain.
The team needed better plays in certain crunch-time situations. Stefanski spent Sunday night and Monday afternoon beating himself up in public on that topic.
"He's the coach, man," Hunt said Monday. "I understand whatever he calls. I really don't care what is called. I try to make something happen to the best of my ability."
Chubb is the workhorse, but Stefanski trusts Hunt to be on the field even in the biggest moments.
In the opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Browns took over on their own 17 with 2:49 left, trailing 33-29. Hunt, not Chubb, played running back. He ran for 5 yards and 3 yards before a short pass set up a third-and-2. He made a 19-yard catch and run on the next play to put the Browns in a first down at midfield with 1:10 left.
An interception on the next play decided the game.
"I know we can play with anybody ... it's proven," Hunt said. "We've got to find ways to finish it out strong."
The unbeaten Arizona Cardinals haven't faced anything like the Chubb-Hunt duo. How Stefanski arranges their touches looms large.
Here's a run through the Cardinals' defense against ball carriers to date, in chronological order:
• In a 38-13 win at Tennessee, Derrick Henry managed just 58 yards on 17 carries. Trailing 17-0 early, the Titans went to the pass. Ryan Tannehill got sacked six times.
• The Cardinals won 34-33 at home but gave up 131 yards on 22 carries to Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings, who failed to protect a 20-7 lead.
• James Robinson and Carlos Hyde of the Jacksonville Jaguars combined for 132 yards on 23 carries and were a factor in the Jaguars taking a 19-10 lead deep into the third quarter. The Cardinals won 31-19.
• In Los Angeles, the Rams got 89 yards on 14 carries by Darrell Henderson, but they fell behind 27-13 early in the second half and leaned on Matt Stafford and the passing game. Stafford didn't take a sack, gaining 21 yards on six scrambles, but couldn't throw the Rams back in it. The Cardinals led 37-13 at one point.
• On Sunday, rookie quarterback Trey Lance was the San Francisco 49ers' running game (16 carries, 89 yards). Rookie sixth-round pick Elijah Mitchell ran nine times for 43 yards.
The buzz around Browns vs. Cardinals is Baker Mayfield vs. Kyler Murray, former Oklahoma teammates. Chubb-Hunt could become the backbone of the game.
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