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Cardinals, Browns Hope To Have Each Other On The Run

Even with QB questions, the ground game likely will dictate outcome

Running back Keaontay Ingram runs the ball against the Ravens last weekend.
Running back Keaontay Ingram runs the ball against the Ravens last weekend.

Who the quarterbacks of the Browns and Cardinals would be may have been the narrative this week going into Sunday's game between the two teams, but it is the running games of each team that may ultimately tell the story. 

The running game for the Cardinals has been effective, but it's going to look pretty different this weekend in Cleveland. Rookie running back Emari Demercado has taken on a huge role in James Conner's absence, but after sustaining a toe injury last week, he's been ruled out.

Keaontay Ingram is expected to be the starter.

Entering Week 9, the Cardinals have 1,102 rushing yards this season, which ranks third in the NFL. They also are second-best in the league, averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

Ingram will assume the workload that Demercado and Conner have been carrying throughout the season. Tony Jones, who was recently signed to the active roster, will be the backup.

The Browns have also been faced with a next man up situation. Running back Nick Chubb went down in the beginning of the season with a gruesome knee injury in Week 2. Kareem Hunt and Jerome Ford stepped in for the Browns, and while Deshaun Watson was sidelined with his shoulder injury, the running backs picked up the offenses production.

"I think since Kevin's (Stefanski) been there, they do a great job of running the football," defensive coordinator Nick Rallis said. "They will find ways to buy angles and get numbers and stay ahead of the sticks with their run game, and they do a great job of marrying the run game with the keepers and their actions and their screens."

Rallis and coach Jonathan Gannon have experience with the Browns head coach from their shared time in Minnesota. Rallis said the Browns offense generates explosive plays through their ability to run the football so well.

The Browns currently rank atop the NFL with 17 turnovers, including 11 interceptions. It's another reason why they've heavily relied on the run game. Since their Week 6 bye, the running game has taken another leap in production. Ford has collected 195 yards over the course of the three games, and Hunt, right behind him, with 133 rushing yards.

"The O-line's been doing a heck of a job going out there and battling for us and as a group, I feel like our running back group has been great," Hunt told Cleveland media. "I don't know really what changed after the bye. But for me, it's just I'm getting back, so I'm feeling good now and I'm excited about it."

The Cardinals can relate to an extent. The offensive line, despite being a bit banged up with Wilkinson and Colon sidelined, has helped the running game embrace the "cram it vertical" mantra it searched for in the beginning of the season.

Gannon said he "liked the plan in place and excited to see those guys carry the rock" when discussing the options in the running back room.

Quarterback Joshua Dobbs was also a key contributor to the run game. The ability to use his mobility kept defenses on their toes. Whether it's Clayton Tune or Kyler Murray, both have that part of their game in their toolbox.

But for the running backs specifically, offensive coordinator Drew Petzing said the group will be ready to challenge Myles Garrett and the Browns defense.

"So much goes into who plays that position and how many reps they get," Petzing said. "It's a different front, different defense, different game plan, and they're all certainly going to have a role."

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