The Cleveland Browns overcame the unthinkable, winning their wild-card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers without their head coach and multiple key starters. It was one of the more impressive performances of the season, jumping out to a 28-0 lead on their division rivals in the first quarter. Kareem Hunt had a huge role in the victory, scoring two touchdowns.
Hunt will have a reunion of sorts in the divisional round of the playoffs. The defending champion Kansas City Chiefs are next for the Browns, who Hunt played for before joining the Cleveland Browns. With a trip to the conference championship at stake, Kareem Hunt could be the X-factor in this game. He could get revenge on his former team by simply doing his job.
Kareem Hunt revived his career in Cleveland
Before Kareem Hunt found his place on the Browns, he was the Chiefs’ third-round draft pick. He exploded on the NFL scene, leading the NFL in rushing his rookie season with 1,327 yards, per ESPN. Hunt also added 53 receptions for 455 yards. He became a backfield stud and had similar success in the early parts of his second season.
However, things fell apart for Hunt. A video surfaced of him kicking a woman in February of 2018. The running back did speak to the Chiefs about the incident but wasn’t completely honest with them. The lack of transparency resulted in Kansas City releasing Hunt. The NFL suspended Hunt for eight games because of the situation.
The Browns signed Hunt in February of 2019. After serving his eight-game suspension, he served as the backup for Nick Chubb. He saw little playtime in 2019 but signed a two-year extension with the Browns in September of 2020. Hunt had a career resurgence in 2020 with Cleveland, showing that he still has what it takes to be a starting back in the NFL.
Hunt split backfield carries with Nick Chubb, even starting in his place when Chubb was injured. He had a great season, rushing for 841 yards, catching 38 passes for 304, and having 11 total touchdowns. His toughness and willingness to fight for extra yards fit right in with the Browns’ physical style of play. Kareem Hunt received a second chance and is making the most of it. He will be going against a Chiefs defense that isn’t the best at stopping the run.
Kansas City struggles to stop the run
The Kansas City Chiefs have an offense stacked with talent. Patrick Mahomes leads the way at quarterback, followed by Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins, and more at the skill positions. Their offense will come ready to play against the Browns. It is the defense, particularly the run defense, that has some cause for concern.
The Chiefs defense allows 122.1 yards on the ground, which ranks twentieth in the league. Relinquishing 4.5 yards per carry, Kansas City’s mediocre performance against the run doesn’t favor them in this matchup against the Browns, who love to run the ball. They will need to stop Cleveland’s running game and force Baker Mayfield to beat them throwing the ball. The Chiefs rank higher in pass defense than run defense this year.
The run defense will be the focal point of the Chiefs’ gameplan coming into this matchup. They should know what to expect from Kareem Hunt because he was on their roster for two years. Chubb is a bruising back, so the Chiefs better be ready to tackle. Cleveland’s rushing attack with Hunt and Chubb could be the reason why they leave Arrowhead Stadium with the win.
Kareem Hunt and Browns can run the Chiefs into the ground
Kansas City’s offense scores points at a quick pace. There is no way to stop their offense, but there is a way to limit their effectiveness. One of the more straightforward formulas to containing the Chiefs’ offense is preventing them from taking the field. That means the Browns would need to run the ball effectively and sustain long drives.
That gameplan fits the Browns perfectly. They have one of the best offensive lines in football and should get lineman Joel Bitonio back from the COVID list. Hunt and Chubb are physical backs who could drain the Chiefs’ defense throughout the game. The Browns average 148.4 yards rushing per game, third-best in the NFL.
Hunt’s heavy involvement in the game plan in Cleveland’s wild-card win could see him getting similar treatment when he faces his former team. If he can run like he has all season, the Browns have a shot at upsetting the defending champs. The combination of Hunt and Chubb gives the Browns enough running power to chew the clock and keep Patrick Mahomes on the sidelines. The big thing is that those long drives must end in touchdowns, not field goals.
Kareem Hunt and the Browns are in the underdog role again this postseason. He is motivated for the matchup, saying that this game is “personal.”If they let Hunt do his job and Chubb continues to dominate, Cleveland will run the Chiefs into the ground and get to the conference championship.
Stats courtesy of ESPN