Browns hope to keep moving without Nick Chubb as they start anew against Derrick Henry, Titans

CLEVELAND (AP) — As the brutal reality of losing star running back Nick Chubb for the rest of this season sunk in, the Cleveland Browns only needed to trace the recent history of their opponent Sunday to know that everything could turn out OK.

Tennessee has been there, done that.

Two years ago, the Titans lost All-Pro Derrick Henry halfway through the season with a broken foot. Not only did Tennessee survive the rest of the way without its rampaging running back, the Titans somehow flourished, finishing 12-5 and as the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.

The Titans (1-1) didn't panic after losing Henry, who was on his way to another rushing title.

The Browns (1-1) can only hope to be as stoic without Chubb, the four-time Pro Bowler who suffered a season-ending and career-threatening left knee injury Monday night in Pittsburgh. The sight of seeing Chubb in tears while being carted off shook many of his teammates.

It was the kind of moment that can define a season.

“You can’t replace 24,” Browns All-Pro guard Joel Bitonio said, referring to Chubb's number. "But I think we have pieces that we can try and put together, a puzzle that can look similar to what we did with Nick.”

The Titans were in a similar scramble mode in 2021 after Henry went down. But Tennessee stuck with its run-first, run-often offensive approach, and with Dontrell Hilliard and D’Onta Foreman filling in, the Titans finished fifth in the league, averaging 141.5 yards rushing per game.

Cleveland defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz watched it. He was a senior advisor in Tennessee that season, and was impressed with how Titans coach Mike Vrabel failed to let Henry's loss overwhelm his team.

“He stays the course,” Schwartz said of Vrabel. “He’s very resilient that way, and it flowed over to the team. Part of that job of the head coach is to make sure everybody knows, ‘Hey, it’s going to be OK, we have a plan, we have good players behind.’”

The Browns didn't have much time to process losing Chubb, who was injured in the second quarter of a 26-22 loss to the Steelers. Second-year back Jerome Ford came in and caught a 3-yard TD pass one play after Chubb's horrific injury.

A fifth-round pick from Cincinnati who began his college career at Alabama, Ford later ripped off a 69-yard run and finished with 106 yards on 16 carries.

Coach Kevin Stefanski plans to use Ford as his feature back, and the Browns brought in some insurance this week by re-signing Kareem Hunt, who spent four seasons in a tandem with Chubb before Cleveland elected not to retain him.

While the personnel might be different, the Titans don't expect the Browns to stray from their ground game.

“It don’t really matter who’s back there," said two-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons. “You know they trust their offensive linemen. At the end of the day, it’s about how are we going to be able to hold up against their offensive line against the run game."


The Browns are still waiting for Deshaun Watson to play like an elite, $230 million quarterback.

To this point, he has been an average player with an above average contract.

In eight starts over two seasons, Watson is 4-4 with nine touchdowns, seven interceptions and not nearly as many dazzling, highlight-reel type plays as expected. He's coming off a rough performance at Pittsburgh that did nothing to quiet his critics, and after two games he's 31st in completion percentage (55.1) and 30th in rating (69.1).

Still, Vrabel, who spent a season with Watson in Houston, knows how dangerous he can be from any spot on the field.

“He extends plays,” he said. “He’s got great play strength in the pocket to wait out receivers, to get him through to the second window, extends plays. Got length, stiff arm and will scramble and can run to get what he needs to get to, can throw the ball to all parts of the field.”


Henry has only rushed for 140 yards through two games, but it's only a matter of time before he gets rolling.

Once he does, look out. At 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, there's few more intimidating sights than Henry at full speed.

“He’s a guy that you can stop nine times in a row and in the 10th time he can go 90 yards for a touchdown,” Schwartz said. "We’re going to tackle well, we’re going to have to be physical and we’re going to have to get hats to the ball. Tackling Derrick Henry isn’t a 1-on-1 thing, it’s an 11-on-1 thing and we have to have that mentality going in.”


Along with Vrabel, most of the Titans know Watson well after facing him twice a year as AFC South rivals.

Two-time All-Pro safety Kevin Byard knows better than to underestimate him.

“He’s playing a different style of offense,” Byard said. “They’re going to run the ball more, but he likes taking shots down the field. So I think first and foremost for our defense, we’ve got to stop the run and on the second half just really just making sure that we’re defending those deep shots.”


The Titans aren't doing enough to keep quarterback Ryan Tannehill upright.

Only six teams have allowed more sacks than the Titans with Tannehill being taken down eight times, including five last week by the Los Angeles Chargers. One of those was the fastest sack by a defender this season as Kenneth Murray needed only 2.31 seconds to get the Titans quarterback.

Tennessee’s offensive line already had four new starters before rookie left guard Peter Skoronski had an appendectomy Sept. 16.

Vrabel knows the Titans' front five have their hands full this week against a rebuilt Cleveland defensive line led by All-Pro end Myles Garrett.

“I don’t think there’s too many guys walking the earth like Myles Garrett,” Vrabel said. “So we’ll be in for a huge challenge.”


AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed.



Tom Withers, The Associated Press