While much of the media attention surrounding the New England Patriots and Cleveland Browns had centered around the fate of wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr, it is the status of the team’s running backs that may have a notable influence on the outcome of their Week Ten matchup this Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
As the Patriots take the practice field on Wednesday, the watchful eyes of Pats fans and media alike will be on running backs Damien Harris and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson. Each runner prematurely exited the team’s 24-6 victory over the Carolina Panthers in Week Nine. Their presence, or lack thereof, may provide valuable insight on their chances of playing on Sunday.
Harris fell victim to a crushing hit from Panthers defensive end Brian Burns in the backfield with 7:18 remaining in the game. Harris remained on the ground for a notable amount of time, before receiving some medical attention. The Alabama product walked to the locker room, and was shortly thereafter ruled out for the remainder of the game with a head injury. Harris finished the game with 30 yards rushing on 15 carries, with one touchdown. It was Harris’ seventh rushing touchdown of the season.
Stevenson went down with 11:31 remaining in the fourth quarter after an 11-yard gain and received medical attention on the sideline before heading to the locker room. He was listed as questionable to return with a head injury but didn't play another snap. The rookie compiled 106 total yards, with 10 rushes for 62 yards and two receptions for 44 yards.
The Patriots' rushing attack was the team’s unquestioned strength against the Panthers on Sunday. New England amassed 151 rushing yards against a tough Panthers run defense. However, the injuries to Harris and Stevenson are potential causes for concern. In Week Ten, the Patriots will welcome the Cleveland Browns to Foxboro. The Browns employ the third-ranked rushing defense. While it is still too early to speculate on the injury status of either running back, Brandon Bolden finished Week Nine as the only healthy running back. Bolden compiled 81 total yards, 54 rushing yards on eight carries, with two catches for 27 yards.
Problems of Their Own
While the outlook for the Patriots corps of running backs is less than optimal, the Browns rushers may be compromised as well. According to multiple reports, the Browns are dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak and were forced to send multiple players to the NFL’s special reserve list. Running backs Nick Chubb, Demetric Felton and John Kelly have all tested positive for Covid-19 in the past few days. They are joining practice squad wide receiver Lawrence Cager and cornerback Brian Mills on the COVID/Reserve list now, leaving their status for Sunday’s game in question.
Per reports, both Chubb and Felton have been vaccinated. As a result, each has the chance to be reactivated before Sunday’s game in New England. To do so, they would need to produce two negative COVID tests 24 hours apart to be cleared to play. Until then, they will need to remain quarantined and are prohibited from participating in any in-facility activities, including practices.
The potential loss of Chubb could have significant ramifications for the Browns, as he is their leader in both scrimmage yards and touchdowns, and a big part of the team’s offensive attack. The 25-year-old has compiled 721 rushing yards through seven games played with six touchdowns.
At present, D’Ernest Johnson is Cleveland’s only available player at the running back position. However, several eyes will also be on the Browns’ practice fields on Wednesday, as well. Running back Kareem Hunt is now eligible to return from injured reserve. Though his status is also uncertain, his presence at Cleveland’s practice may indicate a potential activation sooner, rather than later.
With each team sporting a 5-4 record, a win on Sunday will be essential to remain in the playoff hunt. Kickoff is set for 1:00pm on November 14 form Foxboro, Massachusetts.