Tue Nov 12 5:03pm ET
By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer
Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) rushes between Buffalo Bills free safety Jordan Poyer (21) and strong safety Micah Hyde (23) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
In this May 15, 2019, file photo, Cleveland Browns' Kareem Hunt (27) and Nick Chubb (24) talk during an NFL football organized team activity session at the team's training facility in Berea, Ohio. With Kareem Hunt returning from his eight-game NFL suspension to join Nick Chubb in Clevelands backfield, the Browns (3-6) have a dynamic duo that will test opposing defenses through the air and on the ground. In Sundays 19-16 win over Buffalo, the Hunt-Chubb tandem combined for 147 yards rushing and 49 receiving while helping the Browns snap a four-game losing streak that halted a season shaped by high expectations from dissolving into another mess. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane, File)
Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb, top, is tackled by Buffalo Bills cornerback Taron Johnson during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (27) rushes against the Buffalo Bills during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)
BEREA, Ohio (AP) Freddie Kitchens has struggled to make two star wide receivers happy. The Browns coach now has a pair of elite running backs to please as well.
One football. Four playmakers.
That's not necessarily a bad problem.
With Kareem Hunt returning from his eight-game NFL suspension to join Nick Chubb in Cleveland's backfield, the Browns (3-6) have a dynamic duo that will test opposing defenses on the ground and through the air.
In Sunday's 19-16 win over Buffalo, the Hunt-Chubb tandem debuted and combined for 196 total yards while helping the Browns snap a four-game losing streak that halted this season shaped by high expectations from dissolving into another maddening mess.
Kitchens, whose future was beginning to look bleak and remains unclear, understands that Chubb-Hunt can be a potent 1-2 combination.
''Anytime you can get guys who can do things with the ball in their hands and they can also play off of other people, that definitely impacts decisions, alignments and assignments,'' Kitchens said Tuesday as the Browns prepared for Thursday night's game against the surging Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4) ''When you have more than a couple of options, it's always, from that positon in particular, very good.''
And very needed.
To this point, the Browns have lacked a clear offensive identity.
The two-back, Chubb-Hunt set may change that.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield hasn't developed any consistent chemistry with Pro Bowl receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who has just one touchdown catch as teams have focused on taking him away with double teams. The Browns went out of their way to get Beckham involved on Sunday as he was targeted 12 times - Mayfield just missed him on two long throws - and had five catches.
Jarvis Landry had one of his best games this season with nine receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown.
The Browns have already seen how Hunt's versatility will prevent teams from keying on Chubb, who is on the verge of a 1,000-yard season, while creating more downfield opportunities for Beckham and Landry.
''We kind of did some experiments on just how much we can do with that package,'' Mayfield said. ''Obviously, two dynamic players with Nick and Kareem, we are able to do a lot but kind of make to where we format it where it all looks similar, but we are doing different things out of it. It can be an explosive package for us. We just have to go out there and do our job.''
From the start on Sunday, Hunt did his job, unleashing months of pent-up energy.
On Cleveland's second play, he lined up alongside Chubb and then delivered a kick-out block that cleared a path for his teammate on a 21-yard run. It was a tone-setter and perhaps a sign of things to come.
''They're both willing blockers, they both can catch out of the backfield, then can line up in different spots and they both run with great energy,'' said left guard Joel Bitonio. ''It was cool to see `em both out there. Hunt ran the ball hard the few times he got it. The cool thing was he was lead-blocking a few times and some of those were big spring plays. You know we don't have a fullback in there, but he kind of acted like it a couple times.
''That was really cool to see, his willingness to be that guy.''
Hunt's debut for the Browns was a revelation in many ways.
The 24-year-old former NFL rushing champion is determined to change his personal narrative following two ugly, off-field incidents that led to his release by the Kansas City Chiefs last year and subsequent league punishment. To some, the disturbing video of Hunt shoving and kicking a woman during an argument last year has painted him as an unforgivable villain.
However, the Browns have been impressed with his attitude and maturity. He's made strides off the field. On it, he's a potentially game-changing player.
''Whatever the team needs, he'll do,'' said center JC Tretter. ''He showed it.''
Hunt understands there may be people not thrilled that he's getting a second chance. That's something else he has avoided focusing on.
''I really do not pay too much attention with that,'' he said when asked if he senses how fans have received his return. ''It is up to you. If you like me, you like me.''
NOTES: DE Olivier Vernon (knee) and S Eric Murray (knee) remain sidelined and will likely miss Thursday's game. ... The season's first significant snowfall forced the Browns to practice indoors. But kicker Austin Seibert, punter Jamie Gillan and long snapper Charley Hughlett went outside to get their work in. ... Mayfield will match up Thursday against Steelers QB Mason Rudolph for the first time as pros. They faced each other three times in college with Mayfield leading Oklahoma to a 3-0 record against Rudolph and Oklahoma State. ''Mason is a great guy,'' Mayfield said. ''He is playing well, taking care of the ball, putting them in a good position to win.''
New York Jets running back Le'Veon Bell (flu) is "pretty close to 100 percent," according to head coach Adam Gase. Bell didn't practice last Thursday or Friday and was absent from the Jets 22-21 win over the Dolphins in Week 14. This is great news for the Jets who lost backup Bilal Powell to an ankle injury late vs Miami with a quick turnaround this Thursday at Baltimore. The matchup is brutal for Bell, but assuming he's fully recovered he should get his usual 20-plus touches and be in the RB2 mix based on volume. Ty Montgomery would be the next man up for New York should Bell have a setback and should see some passing downs work, not enough to warrant an add in fantasy, however.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor has been ruled out for Monday Night Football due to a knee injury. Agholor being out means the Eagles will rely even more on tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. The only fantasy-relevant wide receiver on the Eagles will be Alshon Jeffery, who has played well in the past against the Giants and is coming off his best game of the season. Rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Greg Ward will fill out the rest of the wide receiver depth chart in Agholor's place.
Philadelphia Eagles running back Jordan Howard won't play on Monday Night Football due to a shoulder injury. This was expected, as Howard still has not been cleared for contact since originally suffering the injury. Miles Sanders will be on the field a whole lot more than most Eagles running backs have been this season, with Jay Ajayi and Boston Scott backing him up.
Chicago Bears LB Roquan Smith (pectoral) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list Monday, Dec. 9. The team also signed free-agent LB Devante Bond (Buccaneers). Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Jacksonville Jaguars LB Jake Ryan (hamstring) will miss some playing time because of a hamstring injury he suffered in Week 14, according to head coach Doug Marrone.
Seattle Seahawks RB Rashaad Penny (knee) will miss the rest of the 2019 season because of the knee injury he suffered in Week 14. Head coach Pete Carroll said Penny is dealing with a significant injury, but he is still waiting for the MRI results.
Fantasy Spin: Chris Carson will be the main option in the running game with Penny out and should receive plenty of carries each week. Carson is a must-start option in all fantasy leagues no matter the opponent. C.J. Prosise likely will receive a bigger role in the offense and could be a flex option in some deeper leagues.
Indianapolis Colts WR T.Y. Hilton (calf) still has a chance to play this season even if the team is eliminated from playoff contention, according to head coach Frank Reich.
Fantasy Spin: Hilton has missed the last several games because of the calf injury and is uncertain for the final three games of the season. Fantasy players can monitor the situation but probably should look for other options and keep Hilton on the bench.
Cincinnati Bengals WR A.J. Green (ankle) is still considered day-to-day, according to head coach Zac Taylor.
Fantasy Spin: Green has not played this season and suffered a setback a few weeks ago. Fantasy players should avoid Green until he is able to return to the practice field.
Updating a previous report, Indianapolis Colts PK Adam Vinatieri (knee) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list Monday, Dec. 9.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett had a good matchup in Week 14, and he took advantage of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He finished the day 19-of-36 for 251 yards and two touchdowns. He also added four carries for 26 yards. Brissett has been without a number of receiving weapons this year due to injuries, but he was able to utilize the weapons he did have on Sunday afternoon. Brissett's matchups get difficult down the stretch, and he'll be trending downward with the Colts playoff hopes taking a major hit with the latest loss.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Marcus Johnson took advantage of a great matchup and opportunity in Week 14 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With a number of other pass catchers out, Johnson was quarterback Jacoby Brissett's second-favorite target on the day. He caught three of his seven targets for 105 yards and a touchdown. As long as wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (calf) remains out, Johnson will likely continue to see work while the Colts' coaching staff looks to determine their key pieces for the future.
Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack, in his return from a hand injury, was inefficient in Week 14 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he was able to get into the end zone to salvage his day. He finished with 13 carries for 38 yards and a touchdown. He didn't add anything in the passing game, but, in a big shootout, he wasn't utilized a ton. In the final weeks of the season, Mack won't be counted on for a ton of production, but he's still giving you an RB2 level of play on an every week basis.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Zach Pascal has shown the ability to be a great player this season, and he showed that again in Week 14. Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he caught five his nine targets for 74 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett consistently relies on Pascal as his top wideout option every week, and it's just a matter of him completing the catches to be a good play in fantasy. His matchups are less-than-stellar down the stretch, but he still has the volume every week to give him consistent upside.
Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle exploded in Week 13, but he struggled in a big way in Week 14 despite a great matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He caught two of his six targets for 27 yards, and he failed to get into the end zone. Doyle gets the volume to be a consistent fantasy tight end, but he didn't convert on it this week. He'll be a consistent option down the stretch, but he'll never be a high-ceiling player like some of the other guys at the position.
Washington Redskins LB Ryan Kerrigan (calf) will not play in Week 15 against the Philadelphia Eagles due to the calf injury he suffered in Week 14 versus the Green Bay Packers, according to interim head coach Bill Callahan.
Washington Redskins RB Derrius Guice (knee) will not play in Week 15 against the Philadelphia Eagles due to the knee he suffered in Week 14 versus the Green Bay Packers, according to interim head coach Bill Callahan.
Indianapolis Colts PK Adam Vinatieri (knee, leg) is scheduled to undergo surgery to address issues with his meniscus and patellar tendon Wednesday, Dec. 11. He is expected to need between four and six months of rehab.
Atlanta Falcons WR Calvin Ridley (abdominal) announced on social media he will miss the rest of the season due to an abdominal injury he suffered in Week 14 against the Carolina Panthers.
Fantasy Spin: Ridley's second pro season will end with 63 catches for 866 yards and a team-high seven touchdown receptions - almost an exact replica of his production over 16 games as a rookie. There's no indication yet whether or not this injury will be a concern for him in 2020. The Falcons will move forward with Julio Jones and Russell Gage as their starting receivers for the remainder of this season. Jones will remain his usual WR1 self, while Gage is now worthy of flex consideration in shallow leagues.
Updating a previous report, Jacksonville Jaguars DJ Chark (ankle) will be 'week-to-week or day-to-day' with an ankle injury, according to head coach Doug Marrone.
Fantasy Spin: The always-popular non-update from the head coach, as there is a pretty significant difference between "week-to-week" and "day-to-day." At any rate, owners probably should not expect to have Chark available to them in Week 15 and perhaps the rest of the season. His absence would leave Dede Westbrook and Chris Conley as Gardner Minshew's top targets, and both receivers would be worth considering as low-end starters in fantasy if Chark's injury does sideline him the rest of the way.
Updating a previous report, Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes (hand) did not suffer a broken bone in his hand in Week 14 and is expected to be fine for Week 15 against the Denver Broncos, according to head coach Andy Reid.
Fantasy Spin: Reid did admit to changing up his play-calling in the second half of Week 14 to account for his quarterback's injury, so owners should keep an eye on his practice participation throughout the week. Assuming he gets something close to regular work during the week, Mahomes should be trusted as a high-end QB1 in Week 15.