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Matchup to Watch

Matchup to Watch: Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt rushing against the Steelers D

A dominant game on the ground would steer the Browns to a potential victory

Here we go Browns fans!  

The Browns are in the playoffs, and the mantra of "1-0" this week has never been more important as they head to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers for the third time this year. In the Week 17 playoff-clinching win over Pittsburgh, Nick Chubb was brilliant, rushing for an early 47-yard touchdown en route to a day that saw him carry the ball 14 times for 108 yards (7.7 yards per carry) and the touchdown.  

While the fans at FirstEnergy Stadium repeatedly chanted, "Chubb, Chubb, Chubb" to try and will the ball into his hands, head coach Kevin Stefanski opted for a lighter workload in the game. That appeared to be all part of the plan, however, as he noted in an early week press conference that he was thrilled to have a "fresh Nick Chubb" for the team's first playoff game in nearly 20 years. With that in mind, expect Chubb to have a very heavy workload against the Steelers, and he will likely get every opportunity to literally carry the Browns to victory.

The Steelers have the No. 3 pass defense in the NFL and they lead the league in sacks, QB hits, interceptions, opposing quarterback rating allowed and completion percentage allowed. In other words, they are the toughest and most dangerous pass defense in the NFL, led up front by Defensive Player of the Year candidate T.J. Watt. That, alone, would make a team want to run more than pass against Pittsburgh, but there are even more enticing stats to consider when discussing a run-heavy attack. The Steelers' top two inside linebackers are on injured reserve, and the loss of Devin Bush back in Week 6 against the Browns certainly has hindered their run defense this year.  

For the season, the Steelers rank 11th against the run, allowing 111.4 yards and nearly one touchdown per game on 4.3 yards per carry.  Those are very solid numbers, but recently, the Steelers run defense has not been as stout. Over the final four games, the Steelers have allowed 144 yards and 1.25 rushing touchdowns per game on 4.5 yards per carry.

In the first 13 games of the season, only three team's running backs combined to rush for 100 yards against the Steelers.  In that same span, only one team, the Baltimore Ravens in Week 8, saw their running backs combine to rush for more than 100 yards with a rushing touchdown. Well, in each of the last three games of the season, the running backs of the Bengals, Colts and Browns all rushed for more than 100 yards and scored a touchdowns against this Steelers defense. What was once an impenetrable run defense has become vulnerable late in the year, and the Browns, even without Pro Bowl G Joel Bitonio, must capitalize on that with a steady dose of Chubb and Kareem Hunt.  

One last little bit of food for thought as it relates to Chubb, Chubb, Chubb! In his career, Chubb has carried the ball more than 20 times in a game on 14 occasions. In those games, Chubb has topped 100 yards eight times, while rushing for a total of 1,576 yards (113 per game) and 11 touchdowns. It should also be noted Chubb has received 20-plus carries only twice this season, and the Browns are 2-0 in those games with Chubb totaling 238 yards and two scores on 5.7 yards per carry. If the Browns can control the line of scrimmage and feed Chubb 20-plus times, they have an excellent shot to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

Check out the best photos from the Browns win over the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday by the Browns photo team

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