Browns Leaning on RB Nick Chubb to Keep Chiefs Offense Off the Field in Week 9

Sep 30, 2018; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) runs for a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders in the second quarter at Oakland Coliseum. © Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
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Amid recent turmoil in Cleveland, interim head coach Greg Williams faces new challenge in trying to stop Chiefs offense

Injury Report

The Browns lineup Sunday without linebacker Joe Schobert, who won't play while nursing a hamstring injury. Starting receiver Antonio Callaway suffered an ankle injury in Thursday’s practice and did not practice Friday’s practice, receiving a questionable tag for this game. Receivers Rashard Higgins (knee) and Da’Mari Scott (shoulder) are both questionable after being limited participants in practice most of the week. Starting free safety Damarious Randall missed practice all week with a groin injury, while backup cornerback Tavierre Thomas was limited with an abdomen injury. The Browns listed both as questionable. Starting center JC Tretter (ankle) and starting left tackle Desmond Harrison (illness) are also questionable.

The Chiefs will once again be without starting center Mitch Morse (concussion) and starting safety Eric Berry (heel). Linebacker Frank Zombo will miss this game with a hamstring injury. Starting linebackers Justin Houston (hamstring) and Anthony Hitchens (rib) are questionable to play this week, but were able to get in limited practice on Thursday and Friday.

Key Offensive Players

#24 RB Nick Chubb – The rookie running back Chubb raced off to a solid start to his career. He recently became the starter and has 318 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the year, averaging more than 6 yards per carry. Chubb is a powerful back with good vision and breakaway speed, and he should serve as the focal point of the Browns offense.

#29 RB Duke Johnson Jr. – Johnson poses as a pass catching running back for Cleveland. He has 22 carries for 107 yards but adds 20 receptions for 203 yards.

#80 WR Jarvis Landry – Landry leads the team with 49 receptions for 528 yards and two touchdowns since coming over as a free agent in the offseason.

#6 QB Baker Mayfield – While Mayfield’s 58.3 completion percentage, and eight touchdowns to six interceptions ratio impress, this rookie quarterback is competitor who will spark his offense if given the opportunity. Unfortunately for him his team surrendered 33 sacks through the first half of the season, including 20 against Mayfield. The Chiefs' defense needs to force him to stay in the pocket and keep him from using his feet to extend plays.

What the Browns Like To Do

After letting go of head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley this week, the Browns turn to running backs coach Freddie Kitchens as the new offensive coordinator. With the high-scoring Chiefs’ offense coming to town, it would be wise for Kitchens to lean on Chubb to slow down the game and keep Patrick Mahomes off the field. Between Chubb in the running game and Johnson in the passing game, expect the running backs for Cleveland to feature heavily this week while Kitchens revamps the offense. If the offense hits a big gain, don’t be surprised if they immediately run the same play again.

Most of the Browns' running game plows between the tackles. Chubb excels on inside zone and power plays where he can use his power, vision, balance and speed once he gets to the open field to really hurt a defense. The outside run game has been mostly outside zone and stretch plays.

The passing game works the short to intermediate area of the field. While Mayfield possesses solid arm strength, his deep passes haven’t landed in the right hands very often. He has a tendency to leave the deep ball just a little short. His offensive line struggles in pass protection, which would explain why the Browns choose to work the shorter area of the field. Mayfield will extend plays with his feet, and is no stranger to taking off and picking up yardage. Landry along with tight end David Njoku pose as the main targets in the passing game. Mayfield shows signs of building a bond with receivers Damion Ratley and Rashard Higgins

Where To Attack Them

The tackles on the offensive line present the easiest area to attack this offense. They struggle mightily with speed off the edge. The entire offensive line rates below average at picking up twists by the defensive line as well as blitzes by linebackers and slot corners. If the Chiefs can threaten the inside shoulder of the tackles, they will fully commit to the inside rusher. That leaves any outside rusher completely free. They are also not great at picking up blocks in space and routinely look lost if they don’t get their hands on a defender quickly.

Keeping Mayfield in the pocket stands as the biggest key to the game this week. Mayfield's size means hiding behind massive linemen obscures his vision. Much like Mahomes, Mayfield struggles at times seeing linebackers drop into coverage under receivers while inside the pocket. He poses a much more dangerous threat outside of the pocket. If he breaks contain, he can hurt teams with his feet or by throwing a dart downfield while his receivers work the scramble drill. Unlike some mobile quarterbacks, Mayfield doesn’t always slide or get out of bounds to avoid taking unnecessary hits.

With a heavy dose of the inside run game coming this week, the Chiefs should wisely clog up the running lanes on the inside, forcing Chubb to hesitate and bounce plays outside where guys linebackers Dorian O’Daniel and Reggie Ragland can track him down. The defensive line and outside linebackers can control the Browns offensive line and should be able to fight across the face of any blocker and get some penetration to make the interior running lanes congested. With a physical back with good balance and speed like Chubb, the defense needs to make sure to wrap up when tackling him and not just try to arm tackle to avoid him breaking a big run.

Key Defensive Players

#95 DE Myles Garrett – Garrett ranks tied for second in the league with eight sacks. His blend of speed, power and athleticism makes him a handful for the Chiefs’ offensive line.

#90 DT Larry Ogunjobi – Ogunjobi won’t put up the greatest numbers from his defensive tackle spot, but make no mistake about it he is a force in the middle of this defense. He ranks second on the team with four sacks and constantly pushes the middle of the pocket back into the quarterback’s lap.

#21 CB Denzel Ward – Tied for second in the league with three interceptions, Ward is off to a stellar start to his rookie campaign. His speed and athleticism allow him to stay in the hip pocket of most receivers. The Tyreek Hill lining up opposite Ward is a matchup worth watching.

#23 FS Damarious Randall – Randall is the vet that holds this young secondary together. He rates second on the team with 50 total tackles along with two interceptions.

Defensive Strength

The strength of this defense lies with their defensive line. Garrett's freakish athleticism makes him a star pass rusher. Ogunjobi creates a lot of pressure from his defensive tackle spot and Emmanuel Ogbah lines up as a solid rusher opposite of Garrett. Brian Price is a quality backup defensive tackle and much like Ogunjobi can create havoc in the interior.

Christian Kirksey and Jaime Collins Sr. deliver solid play their Mike and Sam linebacker spots respectively. Both rank in the top four on the team in tackles. The Browns will miss one of their best tacklers in Schobert, so upand-coming rookie Genard Avery should see an increase in snaps. Overall this group includes plenty of blue-collar players that don't put up flashy numbers but constantly make plays around the ball.

The rookie Ward heads up a young and athletic secondary. He doesn't let his size (5-11, 190 pounds) stop him from making life difficult for receivers. He could progress into the next great shutdown corner. Free safety Randall ranks second on the team in total tackles and interceptions. Strong safety Jabrill Peppers finally locked into a more natural position and the move shows on the field. He can flow sideline to sideline from inside the box while helping stop the run game.

Defensive Weakness

In the run game, the Chiefs should try pulling linemen to block Garrett. His tendency to hesitate when he sees a pulling lineman gets him on his heels trying to catch the block, making him easily neutralized. Split zones and trap plays have a chance to get good gains this week. For outside runs, sealing the edge with a tight end or a receiver on a crack block can open up huge running lanes for Hunt.

Mahomes must carefully choose his shots when attacking Ward in the passing game. Kansas City's receivers can create separation on him with comeback routes on the outside if they force him to open his hips to the inside. The screen game also looks good this week. Chip blocking Garrett with Travis Kelce to frustrate him should keep him from working the edge on the tackles. If the offensive line can slow down Garrett and Ogunjobi, Mahomes and his weapons should discover freedom to work their magic for the most part.

Special Teams Notes

Rookie kicker Greg Joseph connected on 10-of-12 field goals on the season with a long of 45 yards since taking over the kicking duties. Both of his misses came from more than 40 yards. He also missed two extra points. Teams have returned only five of his 29 kickoffs netting an average of just 18.4 yards per return.

Punter Britton Colquitt, brother of the Chiefs’ punter Dustin and formerly of the Denver Broncos, has 59 punts on the year, averaging 45 yards per punt and allowing an average of 11.7 yards per return on 28 returns. Colquitt out kicks his coverage on occasion and can give up a big return if that happens.

Peppers serves as the main kick and punt returner, and can deliver electricity with the ball in his hands. His 13 kick returns yield an average of 20.9 yards, with a long of 28 yards. Peppers also has 17 punt returns for an average of 10.1 yards with a long of 33 yards.

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