FEATURED PHOTO: CLEVELAND BROWNS RUNNING BACK KAREEM HUNT
ESPN.com, By Jamison Hensley and Jake Trotter, Posted October 2nd 2023
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was looking at social media last week when he cringed. He saw a video of Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb taking a shot to his left knee in a 26-22 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, which ended the season for the four-time Pro Bowler in Week 2.
Jackson then posted on Twitter: “Prayers for Nick Chubb.”
“It was a horrific hit,” Jackson said. “No one likes seeing that type of injury from any guy.”
When the Ravens play at the Browns on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS), it will feature two AFC North rivals looking to maintain dominant run games without their most explosive backs. Over the last three seasons, no teams have had more success on the ground than Baltimore and Cleveland. Since the start of the 2020 season, the Ravens have run for an NFL-best 8,744 yards rushing and the Browns rank second with 7,817 yards.
Now, entering the second month of the regular season, there’s a question mark attached to what had been the most consistent part of the offenses for Baltimore and Cleveland. Chubb is one of two players to produce over 6,000 yards rushing since 2018. Dobbins tops all running backs with a 5.8-yard rushing average since 2020 (minimum 200 carries).
“You can’t replace 24 [Chubb],” Browns guard Joel Bitonio said. “But I think we have pieces that we can try and put together, a puzzle that can look similar to what we did with Nick.”
Here is how the Ravens and Browns are handling the major void in their running games and how it affects next season:
Ravens: The hope is a combination of Justice Hill and Gus Edwards will replace Dobbins. Hill, a fourth-round pick in 2019, has the speed to hit the edges but has to prove durability. Edwards, a long-time backup, is a power runner in between the tackles who has to show he’s fully recovered from a devastating knee injury in 2021. “He looks the same or better than before, just to my eye,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said recently. Baltimore added veteran backs Melvin Gordon III and Kenyan Drake to the practice squad and both were elevated to play Sunday. Undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell could become a factor once he returns from injured reserve.
Browns: The Browns drafted Jerome Ford in the fifth round last year and declared him the lead back following Chubb’s left knee injury. Cleveland also signed Kareem Hunt last week. The Browns have been excited about Ford’s talent and potential since training camp last year. And after kicking the tires on the trade market in the wake of Chubb’s injury, they brought back Hunt, in large part due to his familiarity with the offense after playing the previous four years in Cleveland.
How it’s going
Ravens: Injuries remain a major storyline. Hill missed Sunday’s game with a foot injury, and Edwards left the game with a concussion. Baltimore’s best runner has been Jackson, who has been using his legs more since Dobbins’ injury. In two games without Dobbins, Jackson has run 26 times for 155 yards and two touchdowns. All of the Ravens’ running backs have totaled 186 yards and one touchdown during that span. Jackson has a history of being Baltimore’s most productive runner. He led the Ravens in rushing on Sunday for the 32nd time of his six-year career, which is the third-most by a quarterback since the start of the 1950 season, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau.
Browns: The Browns got little going on the ground against Tennessee’s stout defensive front. Ford rushed for just 18 yards on 10 carries, while Hunt ran for 13 yards on five carries. Still, both backs made plays in the passing game, with Ford — who lined up on the play as a wide receiver — hauling in a 19-yard touchdown grab to help get the Cleveland offense rolling in the first half. The Browns might not have the same efficient rushing offense they did with Chubb, but their revamped backfield should still give them production.
The Browns named former fifth-round pick Jerome Ford as Chubb’s replacement. Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
What it means for next year
Ravens: Dobbins’ injury came at the worst possible time. Dobbins, who had expressed frustration over his contract situation in the spring, will become an unrestricted free agent in March. It’s uncertain whether Baltimore will attempt to bring him back or if Dobbins will look for a change of scenery after injuries have sidelined him for 43 of 67 career games. With Edwards and Hill also being free agents, the Ravens could opt for a complete makeover of the running back position in 2024.
Browns: According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Browns got some positive news last week; initial tests revealed that Chubb only tore his left MCL. Initially, team officials feared that Chubb suffered a more devastating injury. Chubb will be in the last year of his deal in 2024 without any guaranteed money left. But the Browns could still rework his contract, giving Chubb more security and guaranteed money in exchange for years on his deal. Either way, all signs now point to Chubb being back in the Browns’ backfield next season.