Steelers to have hands full with Browns RB duo of Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt
Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. give the Cleveland Browns a pair of wide receivers Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin believes is the best tandem in the NFL.
Tomlin, though, has bigger issues than his defense trying to contain a duo that combined for 14 catches, 154 yards and a touchdown Sunday when the Browns snapped a four-game losing streak with a 19-16 victory against the Buffalo Bills.
When the Steelers meet the Browns for the first time this season Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium, Tomlin will be concentrating on making the Browns offense one-dimensional by stopping running back Nick Chubb and the recently activated Kareem Hunt.
Chubb, in his second season out of Georgia, ranks third in the NFL with 919 rushing yards and is coming off a 116-yard effort against Buffalo. Hunt, making his season debut Sunday after sitting out the first eight games because of a suspension, had 11 touches for 74 scrimmage yards.
“Their backfield tandem … is going to be a big challenge,” Tomlin said, “and I think if you’re talking about their offense, we better start there.”
Chubb fell 4 yards shy of a 1,000-yard season as a rookie when he started nine games. He opened the season sharing playing time with Carlos Hyde but became the feature back when Hyde was traded in midseason.
Chubb had the job to himself in the first half of this season while Hunt was serving his suspension for assaulting a woman, an incident that led to his release from the Kansas City Chiefs last November.
Chubb has four 100-yard rushing games this season and is averaging 5.3 yards per carry, the third-highest total among NFL runners.
“If you don’t slow him down,” Tomlin said, “there’s no need to talk about the wide receiver tandem and the things you need to do to minimize their impact on the game.”
Hunt provides a dual threat for the Browns. As a rookie in 2017, he led the NFL with 1,327 yards rushing and totaled 1,782 yards from scrimmage. He had 1,202 scrimmage yards for the Chiefs last season until videotape of his assault emerged, and the Chiefs cut him.
The Browns signed Hunt, who grew up in the Cleveland suburb of Willoughby, in February knowing he was facing an indefinite suspension. In March, the NFL decided on an eight-game punishment.
Upon his return, Hunt provided an immediate jolt for the Browns, whose 3-6 record hasn’t met vast expectations the organization carried into the season.
“He brings great passion and energy,” Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said. “His skill set, everybody knows it’s pretty good. His desire to want to be good, his unselfish nature, allows him to be a good football player for our team.”
Kitchens acknowledged Hunt is in a transitional phase adapting to the Browns offense. While playing 38 snaps in his Browns debut, Hunt occasionally lined up with Chubb in the backfield.
“We think we know how he fits,” Kitchens said. “The other day, we were throwing things out there just to see what he could do.”
The Steelers faced Hunt in his first two seasons with Kansas City. As a rookie, he had five catches for 89 yards and totaled 110 yards from scrimmage in a 19-13 win for the Steelers. Last year, Hunt rushed for 75 yards and had a 5-yard touchdown catch in the Chiefs’ 42-37 win.
“We know what type of back he is,” slot cornerback Mike Hilton said. “He’s been producing since he got into the league. We’ve got to try to slow him down.”
Then, of course, the Steelers will have to turn their attention to Landry and Beckham, who have combined for 89 catches and 1,284 yards and three scores.
“They have a lot of talent on their side of the ball,” linebacker Bud Dupree said. “They have a lot of superstar players, so sometimes getting those superstar guys to mesh can take a while, which we don’t want it to be on us. Because it could be the day they all (pull it) together.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .