Browns Mailbag

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Browns Mailbag: What’s the plan for Kareem Hunt when he returns?

The Browns are escaping the coldest Cleveland day in months just in time to go to an even colder Denver, which has already weathered its first snow of the season.

By Sunday, though, we’re expecting a temperate, perfect afternoon. A Browns effort that matches the elements would certainly make for an enjoyable flight back to Cleveland. 

Before we depart for the first part of the journey, we’re answering a few of your questions.

How do Dontrell Hillard and Duke Johnson's stats compare for the season? -- Elmer L., Bangor, Maine

In six games -- Hilliard missed one with a concussion -- Hilliard has run eight times for 41 yards and two touchdowns to go along with nine receptions for 82 yards. Johnson, meanwhile, has run 47 times -- already more than the 40 he had last year with the Browns -- for 274 yards to go along with 17 receptions for 160 yards and two touchdowns in eight games. The difference between the two, outside of the obvious statistical differences -- is usage rate. The Browns have significantly increased Nick Chubb’s workload this season, and he’s responded with some of the best numbers in the league. He’s already rushed 134 times -- he had 192 carries all of last year -- for 738 yards and six touchdowns while catching 21 passes -- already more than the 20 he had last year -- for 135 yards.

Kitchens was asked Thursday about how Chubb is on pace for more than 300 carries.

“Nick Chubb is in great condition, his body is in great condition,” Kitchens said. “A work horse, and he wants to be. He wants to do everything he can to help the team win the football game.”

Fewer turnovers and fewer penalties. That’s about it.

Here’s something to be encouraged by. The Browns are 12th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (125.4). They lead the league in rushing yards per attempt (5.6). There’s only one team with more rushing yards per game (Oakland) that also has a losing record. Teams that run the ball this well are typically winning teams, largely because they’re running out the clock with more running attempts than their opponent. The Browns are compiling these yards while trailing in most of their games. Eliminate the turnovers and unnecessary penalties, and this is an offense capable of controlling the clock and wearing teams out on the ground.

Speaking of running the ball …

There’s a plan, but Kitchens isn’t revealing many details around it. The good news surrounding Kareem Hunt is he appears to be fully recovered from the sports hernia surgery he underwent in August and has logged two full weeks of practice, giving the defense all it can handle as a member of the scout team.

Kitchens cracked a smile Thursday when he was asked about the team’s plan for Hunt, who is eligible to return next week against the Bills.

“Kareem is a good football player, and we are going to have a plan for him,” Kitchens said. “It is always good to have those guys.”

Kitchens was then asked if Chubb and Hunt would be on the field at the same time.

“The Wishbone might make another appearance, right?” Kitchens joked.

When Kitchens took over as offensive coordinator midway through last season, he identified one of the team’s top strengths to be its running backs. That’s why he figured out a way to utilize all three at the same time in a memorable series of Wishbone-style plays against the Falcons. The crazy thing was it mostly worked … until Hilliard threw an interception. Plenty of attention centered on the success of Baker Mayfield during this stretch -- and it was well-deserved -- but the team’s trio of running backs played a major role in the team’s offensive success. Here’s what they did over those final eight games.

Chubb: 678 yards (4.84 yards per carry), 5 TDs; 18 receptions, 139 yards, 2 TDs
Johnson: 94 yards (5.2 yards per carry); 27 receptions, 226 yards, 3 TDs
Hilliard: eight receptions, 81 yards

“In today’s football, you have to be willing to put the other guy in whether it is Dontrell, D’Ernest (Johnson) or Kareem,” Kitchens said Thursday. “Whoever it is, whatever team it is on, usually they have two guys and most of the time three guys that they play on a consistent basis. Those guys get hit every play. Either they are getting hit or they are hitting someone so the contact adds up over the course of the year. You always have to factor that in.”

I’ll take the under, and if that happens, I expect there to be far more wins than losses.

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