Bengals wary of Browns running game, which is still formidable, even without Chubb

The Cincinnati Bengals defense knows how to better handle the Cleveland Browns' offense the second time around, but they at least have one less thing to worry about when they meet again Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

Nick Chubb rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-30 win over the Bengals in Week 2. Chubb went on injured reserve three weeks ago with an MCL tear and is not expected back for another few weeks at least.

That leaves Kareem Hunt to shoulder the load in the running game, which ranks first in the league with 169.5 rushing yards per game.

“You still have (Kareem) Hunt, who is a very featured back in this league,” safety Vonn Bell said. “He’s a great one (and) runs hard. They got that workhorse out, but they’ve got two of them. They’re still going to run the offense through him.”

Hunt rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown against the Bengals in that Week 2 matchup, and that was his season high. He had a season-high 20 carries two weeks ago and finished with 72 yards, but he’s shown in the past he is capable of much more.

In his only full season in 2017 with Kansas City, he finished with 1,327 yards and eight touchdowns. He rushed for 824 yards and seven scores in 11 games the following year before joining the Browns for eight games in 2019.

Cincinnati has shown progress in its run defense, ranking 24th while allowing 101.8 yards on the ground after being the worst in the league in that area last year. The Bengals held the Colts to 59 yards rushing in a pass-heavy game Sunday when Indianapolis rallied from a 21-0 deficit to win 31-27, and they held Lamar Jackson to three yards on two carries the week before that.

“We haven’t had any 100 yards rushing games from a single guy (since Week 2),” Bell said. “We’ve been running to the ball, everybody’s been flying to the ball. We’ve been doing well against the run.”

Stopping the run is one thing, especially after Cleveland rushed for 215 yards in the first “Battle of Ohio” matchup, but keeping quarterback Baker Mayfield from getting to the sidelines is another focus. He threw for 219 yards and two touchdowns, and much of his success came on misdirection bootleg plays that resulted in passes downfield.

Cincinnati typically has struggled with quarterbacks that get out of the pocket.

“Those types of plays slow the defense down, and that’s what they want,” Bell said. “With misdirections and getting the guy that he does movement passes and really just seeing the whole defense from there, he ain’t got nobody in his face so it’s just making it easy and simple for him and it slows the defense down.”

Bell said the key is getting the edge rushers to put pressure on Mayfield quickly.

“Get somebody in their face and get great angles to pursue the boot action and aim for his upfield shoulder,” Bell said.

Baker is working through some soreness after dealing with a rib/chest injury the last couple weeks. He played through some pain Sunday but that wasn’t to blame for his benching in a 38-7 loss to Pittsburgh, according to Browns coach Kevin Stefanski on a conference call with local media Wednesday.

The third-year quarterback threw two interceptions and finished with 119 yards and one touchdown and a quarterback rating of 54.9 before Case Keenum replaced him late in the third quarter. Mayfield was limited in practice Wednesday but is expected to play Sunday.

“He’s sore — not like he was sore a week ago but he’s working through it,” Stefanski said. “I think he’ll be OK. … He was ready to go. He was medically cleared. I don’t think he’s going to use that as an excuse. But I will tell you he’s a tough dude.”

Bell said the solution for more success against Cleveland this time is simple to summarize.

“Too many missed tackles,” he said. “We’ve just got to finish plays, just run through them.”

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