The Main Event: Nick Chubb, Derrick Henry headline Browns-Titans matchup Sunday

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CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – Get the ice tubs ready.

With two of the NFL’s top three rushing teams and rushing title contenders in Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry squaring off, Sunday’s Browns-Titans game figures to be a black and blue affair.

“They are two great players,” Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski said, “but we know it is not a matchup between those two guys. At the end of the day, it is a matchup between the Titans and the Browns.”

While Sunday’s game isn’t just about Henry and Chubb as both teams look to inch closer to clinching a playoff berth, they figure to be the main event.

“I know everybody is going to want to say it is all about these running backs – the three of them, they are extremely special; do not get me wrong – but this is a great game and great teams,” quarterback Baker Mayfield, who took exception to Kareem Hunt being left out of the conversation, said. “It is going to be all three phases against each other. We are going to have to play complementary football and play as a team to win this game. It is going to be a physical one. We said our identity on offense starts in the run game, and we know that so that is what we are worried about.”

Since Chubb’s return from injured reserve, he’s rushed for over 100 yards each of the last three games helping the Browns reclaim the top spot as the NFL’s best rushing team at 161.4 yards per game.

Tennessee comes in at No. 3, averaging 158.2 yards on the ground per contest.

“The players understand the physical affair that it is going to be on Sunday,” Stefanski said.

Henry, the league’s reigning rushing champ after swiping the title from Chubb in Week 17 last year, leads the NFL with 1,257 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns this season.

Chubb continues to downplay losing the rushing title last year to Henry, but Wednesday he conceded that he might be a tad bothered by it.

“A little bit, but it is nothing personal against him,” Chubb said. “It is more of just myself. I am not mad at Derrick Henry for getting the rushing title last year.”

Right tackle Jack Conklin, signed away from the Titans in the offseason to a three-year, $42 million deal, won’t claim he was the secret to Tennessee’s success a year ago.

“Derrick is still the leading rusher in the NFL, so they are still doing well without me,” Conklin said.

Henry is averaging a robust 4.9 yards per carry and has eight explosive runs of 20 or more yards this year for the Titans, who like the Browns, are 8-3.

“It is not one person’s job to try to stop Derrick Henry,” Stefanski said. “He is too good of a player. We have to take it upon ourselves as a defense to make sure we are gap sound and deliberate about our run fits, and then we have to get multiple people around the ball.”

Chubb is tied for sixth leaguewide with 719 yards on the ground and six touchdowns, but he’s also missed four games after suffering a sprained MCL at Dallas in Week 4.

“He is a guy that wants to be the best. He is one of the hardest workers I have ever seen, and just how powerful he is and everything,” Conklin said. “He takes everything in stride. He is not a vain guy in the way about how he goes to work. He wants to be the best, but he is not going to go talk about it and talk about his stats or anything like that. He is the exact teammate you would want on any team and the type of person you would want to be around every day.”

So what is it about Henry and Chubb that makes them so special?

“It is hard to compare them,” Conklin said. “They are two very different backs. Derrick, he is special because he is just so big. He is 6-3, 250, and he runs a 4.4. That is just a giant. That is a different one. In his own respect, Nick too. He is just a different body build. Another extremely, extremely special back.

“They are both guys who are very good at reading the holes and setting up blocks. I think the biggest thing if you put both of them together, they both are great at breaking tackles. You see that in the yards after contact. Both of them really excel at that.”

Hunt averages 4.49 yards per carry and isn’t far behind Chubb in the rankings – he’s eighth in the league with 706 yards and four rushing touchdowns. He has also caught four touchdowns.

Chubb leads the NFL with 10 carries of 20 or more yards this season and he’s the only back ranked in the top-10 to break multiple runs of over 40 yards this season.

“I have a lot of respect for these guys and the way that they run the football,” Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said. “They take care of it. They are running hard. The ball is not loose. It is going to be a huge challenge for us to be able to defend that running game because they have a good scheme and really good players.”

Chubb and Hunt have had their fair share of grind it out games on the ground and the 2018 second-round pick is expecting another Sunday afternoon in Nashville.

“We do expect it to be a physical game because they are a physical team,” Chubb said. “They are going to line up, you know they are going to run and they run it, and it is hard to stop. They are a great team. It definitely will be physical, but who knows exactly what will happen.”