We're back on a Thursday with a four-question edition of the Browns Mailbag.
The division is close and the Browns are still contending despite losses in close games to the Chargers, Steelers and Ravens. It seems the Browns do better when they are able to utilize the best running backs in quite some time in Chubb and Hunt. How effective are the Browns when they run the ball 20-plus times a game? — Rob M., Fairmont, West Virginia
The Browns have cleared 20 rushing attempts in all but two games this season, so we probably need to come up with a new number for this exercise. Let's up it to, say, 30. When the Browns rush it 30 or more times, they are 5-1 with the lone loss coming to the Chargers, when Cleveland rushed 35 times for 230 yards but still fell, 47-42. The lone Browns win that came when the team didn't rush it 30 times or more was in Week 9, when Cleveland routed the Bengals while rushing 23 times for 153 yards.
Now, let's stress the obvious: When the Browns — or any team for that matter — are winning, they'll tend to run the ball more. When they're losing, they'll throw it more. That's just football. What's clear with the Browns, though, is they're an exceptional rushing team when they're in the lead and able to close out games with punishing runs from Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Getting back on track on the ground will be big this week, as the Browns managed just 40 rushing yards in their Week 12 loss to the Ravens.
"Ultimately, we are trying to find ways to be explosive," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "Whether that is through the ground or through the air, that is what we are searching for. How we play and how we call it is always based on that opponent, that game and what we feel like gives us the best chance. It is certainly something that we start talking about on that Monday when you look at your opponent and you look at you, and say 'All right, how do we want to handle this game?'"
Why is playing Hunt and Chubb at the same time so difficult? Are they not in shape to play an entire game? — Elmer L., Bangor, Maine
It definitely has nothing to do with stamina. Both have been workhorse backs in the past and both are capable of carrying the load for however long the Browns need in a given game.
This has been a popular question ever since Stefanski became head coach. Chubb and Hunt got on the field together at points during the second half of 2019 but it was nothing significant. Over the past two seasons, they've almost always rotated snaps. It's not something that can be ruled out in the future, but it just hasn't happened to this point.
"I do think it is something you can do in this system and really any system in terms of plugging in those guys," Stefanski said. "I think we just want to be mindful and intentional about why we are doing and what we are doing. If you do something like that, you want to have a good reason to do it and put those guys in position to succeed."
I am concerned about our OT situation. I think we may need to look at a vet FA like Mitchell Schwartz or Russell Okung. Is the answer on the Roster: like Alex Taylor or Hudson? — Jim C., Centerville
Stefanski on Wednesday indicated the Browns made their decision for who would start at right tackle Sunday but opted not to reveal it for competitive purposes. Hance, rookie James Hudson III and Michael Dunn are among the options in play for a team that has been truly snake-bitten with injuries at the position. One of the most overlooked injuries this season was Chris Hubbard's, who hasn't been available since Week 1. That's forced the Browns to go their third and sometimes fourth options at an essential position on the offensive line.
Still, the Browns aren't making excuses and are embracing a "next man up" mentality no matter how deep down the depth chart they've had to look.
"The truth is," Stefanski said, "everybody has to be ready to play because you get one play into this thing and you are thrust into the starting lineup."
With the Ravens coming to town, I'm hoping that the defensive game plan involves using speedy DBs to chase QB Lamar Jackson with a player like CB Troy Hill if he's returning, someone who had three sacks vs. QB Joe Burrow against Cincy! Granted, we had four INTs, but they still scored enough to win the game! Control Jackson, make him feel really uncomfortable, we should win the game! — Philip H., Saint Clairsville
The Browns defense delivered its best effort against Lamar Jackson in the teams' all-time matchups. Jackson wasn't able to do a ton with his feet, and you already mentioned the four interceptions — the most Cleveland's had in a game in a couple of seasons. It was a great effort but it unfortunately wasn't enough, as Jackson needed just two big throws — both to TE Mark Andrews and both after buying tons of time with his unique scrambling abilities — to score enough points to come away the winner.
Now, the task will be to simply do it again. The Browns, though, aren't viewing their defensive performance as a complete success. They want to be even better, and that will mean further limiting Jackson from extending plays and preventing the Ravens from extending drives with third-down conversions.
"There is always room for improvement," Stefanski said. "Listen, they are going to adjust, and so are we. That is kind of how it works in this game. They are going to go back and look at what worked and maybe some things that did not work so we are anticipating we are going to certainly see some wrinkles from them."
When the Browns faced the Ravens in Week 12, they utilized their three-safety look a heavy amount — Hill played just 14 snaps in his first game back from a neck injury — and deployed rookie LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah on a nearly every-snap basis. The result: All three safeties got interceptions and Owusu-Koramoah had the best game of his young career.
"If everyone runs to the ball like we did last game, I think we will be just fine," S John Johnson III said.