For NFL fans who long for the days when running the ball mattered, they should take a look at Sunday’s matchup of 8-3 AFC playoff contenders in Nashville.
There, the Cleveland Browns take on the Tennessee Titans. Or as the rushing statistics say, the league’s top running offense against the league’s No. 3 rushing attack. Two top 10 rushers (Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt) butting heads with the NFL’s top back (Derrick Henry).
While it might not include the classic Green Bay power sweep from the 1960s, it would probably catch the attention of coach Vince Lombardi if he were still of this earth. No doubt Lombardi would love the chance to feed Henry, who has 1,257 yards and is historically better as a season and game goes along.
“It’s going to be a big challenge this week,” Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski said. “I think that we have to make sure that we are gap sound, No. 1. You have to defeat blocks against a team like this.
“You have to defeat your one-on-one blocks, and then you have to gang-tackle. Just understanding how this team plays and seeing them over the years, it does present a great challenge.”
It’s a challenge that has vexed the Browns the last couple of weeks, even as they have pulled out close wins over Philadelphia and Jacksonville. In a 22-17 victory two weeks ago against the Eagles, Cleveland permitted 96 rushing yards in the first half.
Last week, Jaguars rookie James Robinson collected 128 yards, a prime reason why the Browns required a stop on a potential game-tying 2-point conversion with two minutes left to save a 27-25 decision.
Of course, Cleveland does get defensive end Myles Garrett back after he missed those two games while on the COVID-19 list. Stefanski says Garrett’s value goes beyond his 9 1/2 sacks, just a half-sack behind the Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald for the NFL lead.
“I would just tell you Myles is a very good player for us,” Stefanski said. “Excited to get him back.”
While the Browns are trying to solidify wild-card positioning, the Titans are aiming to stay a game up on Indianapolis in the AFC South. They exploded for 35 first-half points last week against the Colts and came home with a 45-26 triumph that snapped the division tie.
Not only did Henry dominate to the tune of three first-half touchdowns and 178 yards on 27 carries, Ryan Tannehill was efficient. He completed 13 of 22 passes for 221 yards and a score, improving his touchdown-interception ratio to an outstanding 23-4.
And the Tennessee defense responded well after allowing touchdowns on Indianapolis’ first two drives. The Titans didn’t allow another point again until the fourth quarter, after they had expanded their lead to to 38-14.
However, Titans coach Mike Vrabel said his team has proven nothing yet, at least in terms of stating a case for the playoffs.
“Whether you’re 6-5 or 8-3, I’d say that it just comes down to how you play each week,” he said. “I don’t ever look at it like ‘you’re the hunted.’ Hopefully, we’re going out there with the attitude that we’re hunting every single week, regardless of what our record is.
“All we’ve done is take a few steps to put ourselves in position to continue to play meaningful games here in December.”
Tennessee might get wide receiver Adam Humphries back from a concussion that has sidelined him for four games. Former Titans right tackle Jack Conklin (knee) was termed limited by Cleveland on Wednesday.
The Browns worked remotely to start their game-week prep after a staff member was found to have tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. Later that day, they reopened their facility.