CLEVELAND — Chess players, or fans of “The Queen’s Gambit,” understand the intricacies involved in winning a game of strategy, and on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski was building a bridge to the playoffs.
During a press conference on Monday, Stefanski shed some light on why running back Nick Chubb, who had an explosive 47-yard touchdown run to start the game, was used less throughout the game—a decision that upset some fans as the game progressed and the score got too close for comfort.
“We're mindful of workload and mindful of getting that win and also understanding that we have another hopefully few games coming up here. So trying to make sure it's the right balance of keeping both those guys fresh and getting the guy in there to get some work done," Stefanski said of Chubb and running back Kareem Hunt.
On Sunday afternoon, Chubb had 14 carries for 108 yards and a touchdown while Hunt had 10 carries for 37 yards.
The Browns have found great success in their run game, boasting the league’s best backfield with Chubb and Hunt being the only pair of teammates in the league this season with at least 840 rushing yards.
Cleveland has rushed for 100 yards or more in 13 games this season. When they surpass 100 yards in a game, the Browns are 10-3.
So in the fourth quarter, when the game was within a single score, it was hard to fathom why Chubb wasn’t seeing a high volume of touches and at times wasn’t even on the field.
Stefanski said they didn’t do anything new with the running back rotation, having gone series to series with different running backs out there, and he reiterated the desire to make sure the running backs had fresh legs heading into the playoff game against the Steelers.
“That's really what we do every game—we go series to series. Kareem gets a ton of reps on third down. There’s certain plays that we want Nick in there for. There’s certain plays that we want Kareem in there for, but once we get into the flow of it, just have some dialogue with (running backs coach Stump Mitchell), and then feel comfortable with who we have out there,” Stefanski said. “Again, we feel like we want to have some fresh guys starting this week.”
Stefanski did say during Sunday afternoon’s game that the idea that they might face the Steelers in the playoffs the next week was in the back of his mind, adding to the notion Stefanski used Chubb’s production as a gambit.
Looking back on a win like that, it really does feel as though the Ivy League grad is playing chess, not checkers.