Cardinals catch break with Chubb out, still face tough RB in Kareem Hunt
TEMPE — While the Arizona Cardinals’ acquisition of tight end Zach Ertz on Friday easily led the NFL news cycle for the day, that wasn’t the only news to come down.
On top of Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury testing positive for COVID-19, Arizona’s Week 6 opponent in the Cleveland Browns will have a different look in the backfield Sunday with starting running back Nick Chubb ruled out of the matchup with a calf injury.
Entering play this week, Chubb trails only Tennessee Titans rusher Derrick Henry (640) in rushing yards across the NFL with 523 yards. He’s tied for seventh in the league with four touchdowns.
The Cardinals dodged a bullet in a big way with Chubb on the shelf. Too bad there’s another one in the chamber in running back Kareem Hunt.
“Unfortunately they have another one they can plug right in, Kareem Hunt, who just as good as anyone in this league,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Friday. “Nick Chubb’s a tremendous player and that’s gonna be a loss no matter what but they plug one in that can do some special things. We know we’re gonna have our hands full.”
Chubb has Hunt beat in rushing yardage, with the latter recording 295 yards on 55 carries. Hunt has the advantage on rushing scores, finding pay dirt five times, tied for second in the NFL. Together, the duo has led Cleveland’s rushing attack all the way to the top of the NFL.
Hunt is used as more than just a runner, though, providing Baker Mayfield with another option in the passing game.
Through five games, Hunt has caught 17 of his 21 targets for 149 yards, averaging nearly nine yards per reception.
“He’s a receiver out of the backfield, makes the same cuts that Chubb makes and they both can make plays,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Thursday. “To beat this team is to contain the run game. … They’re first in every run category in the league right now and it’s fun to watch because it’s old school football and it’s winning football.”
Hunt still presents a tough task for Arizona, but with Chubb out, the Cardinals don’t have to deal with the dreaded two-headed monster the Browns have created in the backfield.
The five-year back will likely garner the lion share of rushing attempts, but at some point Hunt will need to be spelled. Behind him sit two largely unproven running backs in Demetric Felton and D’Ernest Johnson.
Felton, a rookie out of UCLA, has yet to see a carry but sits third on the depth chart ahead of Johnson, who has two attempts for nine yards. Used solely as a receiver through five weeks, Felton has six catches for 76 yards and a touchdown.
The Browns pride themselves on their rushing attack, but let’s not forget about Mayfield.
The quarterback enters the matchup completing 66.9% of his passes for 1,240 yards and four touchdowns to two interceptions. He’s also ran the rock 17 times for 67 yards and a score.
“I see a quarterback who is athletic, confident, he can make every single throw,” Joseph said. “He is doing a great job of managing their offense. When you can score 42 points in an NFL game, something’s happening right form the quarterback position. If you don’t respect the guy as a pass, he can hurt you.
“When you watch Baker now from two years ago, he’s escaping the pocket. He’s fairly athletic, he’s moving around pretty good. He’s being smart with the ball, not giving the ball away, and that’s critical.”