Kitchens smartly shaping offense around skill sets of players

Browns rookie RB Nick Chubb (24) stiff-arms Atlanta Falcons DE Brooks Reed in second half of 28-16 win over Falcons in Cleveland. USA Today photo.

Bengals giving up massive yardage on ground as Browns come into town after historic performance by rookie Nick Chubb

By Ed Meyer

Even if Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield gets up this morning, feeling dangerous again, there might be a better plan of attack against the Bengals.

How about pounding away with rookie running back Nick Chubb and the dependable, all-purpose veteran, Duke Johnson?

Browns offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens surely sees what could be there for the taking in today's divisional game at Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium.

The Bengals, 5-5 and coming off back-to-back defeats, are the league’s 27th-ranked defense, and in their last eight games, their opponents have averaged 174 yards rushing per game, including 267 yards on the ground by the Ravens, 244 by the Saints, 198 by the Chiefs and 230 by the Carolina Panthers.

In only two games calling the offensive shots for the Browns since the Oct. 29 firing of head coach Hue Jackson, Kitchens has played to the team’s strengths.

Chubb, in an historic performance, produced 176 yards rushing and the longest run from scrimmage, 92 yards, in team history. Overall, he is averaging 6.2 yards per carry.

The powerful running of Chubb, combined with Mayfield’s quick decisions and play-action passing and the re-emergence of Duke Johnson, made for a deadly combination in the last game, a 28-16 domination of the Falcons.

During the bye week, many players talked about how Kitchens devises the game plan, works intensely on it in practice, then goes to the players at the end of the week, seeking their input about what plays they like to run best.

“That’s playing to the players’ strengths,” former offensive tackle Doug Dieken, game analyst on the Browns’ radio broadcast, said last week in explaining how things have changed.

“When Hue was here, he wanted to play this down-the-field, throw-the-ball offense. Well,” Dieken said, “Rashard Higgins isn’t a down-the-field player. He’s an underneath guy that’s got good hands.

“You’ve got to play to the skill set of your players. Part of that is getting Duke one-on-one with linebackers. That’s a tough cover. Greg Pruitt was a tough cover. Eric Metcalf was a tough cover.

“The other part of it is, you’ve got to commit to the run. Otherwise, you just hang that offensive line out to dry.”

Kitchens used an NFL rarity, a full-house backfield with Higgins in there against the Falcons, and it seemed to make their defense tentative.

Asked during the week’s preparations if he would use the formation again in the Cincinnati game, Kitchens answered wryly: “Yeah, we are going to use it. We are probably going to use it 45-50 plays this week, and we are going to go with it and see what happens.

“It is just an opportunity to get some of our good players on the field. They deserve to play, too. As long as they are making plays and stuff, we are going to use it.”

Game time is 1 p.m.on CBS-TV. Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon and Steve Tasker (sidelines) are the broadcast crew.

Notes and quotes

--Browns cornerback Terrance Mitchell, who suffered a broken wrist against the Raiders in the fourth game, returned from injured reserve and began practicing Wednesday as a player designated to return. Mitchell, a starter before being injured, can return to game action on Dec. 9 when the Browns host the Carolina Panthers.

-- Running back Nick Chubb has a legitimate chance to break the Browns' rookie rushing record of 950 yards set by Trent Richardson in 2012. Chubb has 579 rushing yards with six games to play. He would have to average 62 yards a game to break the record. He has never run for fewer than 60 yards since becoming the starter on Oct. 21 against Tampa Bay.

“He's a strong runner,” Browns interim head coach Gregg Williams said. "He protects the football very well. The things that you have to be able to do if you are going to take a step above everybody else, or be looked at as being one of the up-and-comers, is his overall vision. You can't coach that."

--Linebacker Clay Matthews, who played for the Browns from 1978-93, is a Hall of Fame semifinalist for the third time. He holds Browns team records for games played (232) and quarterback sacks (76.5).

--By the numbers: 15 passing touchdowns by the Browns after 10 games this season equals their number of passing touchdowns for all of 2017.

Player Notes

--Center JC Tretter (ankle) did not practice Wednesday. He has been coping with a high ankle sprain since Oct. 14, but has not missed any games.

--TE David Njoku (knee) was limited in practice.

--DB Tavierre Thomas had full practice participation. He had been dealing with an abdominal injury.

--LTs Greg Robinson and Desmond Harrison are battling in practice to win the starting job. Robinson started the last two games.

--LB Joe Schobert returned to action against the Falcons on Nov. 11 after missing three games with a hamstring injury. The bye gave him another week to get healthy. Schobert will be a busy man against the Bengals, dealing with running back Joe Mixon and tight end C.J. Uzomah. Tight ends have had success against the Browns in the past, but not so much with Schobert in coverage.