Even with Deshaun Watson, Myles Garrett and Nick Chubb are still Browns MVPs
Nick Chubb should help the Browns lead NFL in rushing yards
Now let’s talk about the offense. The Browns have always been about running backs: Marion Motley, Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell, Leroy Kelly, Greg Pruitt, Earnest Byer, Kevin Mack, Eric Metcalf, Jamal Lewis, and Peyton Hillis. And that brings us to the present day, with Nick Chubb, aided and abetted by Kareem Hunt, D’Ernest Johnson, Jerome Ford, and Demetric Felton.
Do fans — or even the front office — realize what they have in Chubb? He’s an absolute beast between the tackles. Many fans, this one included, thought he was the best running back in the star-studded 2018 draft on the grounds that he was the most dangerous between the tackles.
Saquon Barkley was famous for his outside moves and speed, and it looked like he was a big back who could run outside all day long. But the running game has to earn its keep when tough yards are needed, and Chubb looked like he was the better back at short yardage between the tackles. Please don’t ask me about my glowing report card on Josh Rosen, but I got Chubb right.
One of the reasons analysts downgraded Chubb is that he had serious knee surgery back in 2015, and the thought was that he might not have truly recovered. He averaged 7.1 yards per carry his freshman season at Georgia, and 8.1 as a sophomore prior to his injury. Then as a junior he averaged “only” 5.0 per carry and 6.0 yards per carry as a senior. Perhaps he had lost a half step of his outside speed?
Maybe so. But he clocked 21.95 mph on an 88-yard touchdown run against the Ravens, marking him as one of the fastest men in the NFL. According to Next Gen Stats, he has exceeded 21 mph four times in his career. This means he might get ticketed in a school zone even without a car.
This is our between-the-tackles, short yardage back. And he has absolutely blazing speed. He can run outside if he wants to, but he’d rather run over people rather than run around them. He is the closest thing to Jim Brown this generation has ever seen.
But do you know what is truly sad? Recall that the Baltimore Ravens lost their top three running backs due to injuries last season. J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill were all out for the year. They also lost their top offensive lineman, Ronnie Stanley, and managed to hoodwink themselves into trading away Orlando Brown, Jr. Yet the Ravens still outgained the Browns on the ground, 2,479 yards to 2,471 yards.
It’s not just Lamar Jackson. They have the will to run the ball even with fourth, fifth, and sixth string running backs. The Browns had an All-Pro running back running behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, and they couldn’t wait to play hero ball with Baker Mayfield.
It’s not that Mayfield’s a bad quarterback. The problem isn’t even that he was injured. The main problem is that psychologically the Browns wanted to depend on the passing game and would not use their greatest offensive weapons. Cleveland gave up on the run if they are behind at any point in the game, panic, and start slinging it all over the ballyard.
You know what is even worse? Remember back in 2019 when Chubb was going to lead the NFL in rushing yards and coach Freddie Kitchens decided to rest him, which allowed Derrick Henry to overtake him? Well, that season the Ravens as a team rushed for 3,296 yards, versus only 1,901 for the Browns.
If you take away Lamar Jackson’s record-setting 1,206 yards, the Ravens still out-rushed Cleveland 2,090 to 1,901. These new Browns just have not had the will to run the football. In that season they had Kareem Hunt for the second half of the season, plus they had D-Ernest Johnson and they also had Dontrell Hilliard for the entire year.
That crew of four should have been good for 3,000 yards. However, Johnson and Hillard were left to rot on the bench (here it is 2022 and both have career rushing averages over 5.0 yards per carry, so they are not terrible players), and Hunt was given very few carries at a time when Mayfield was trying to lead the NFL in interceptions.
That’s the story of the Browns. Their recent history shows that they have been timid to use the running game and preferred to rely on a passing game, even when the passing game is clearly inferior. This was the case in 2021 due to injuries to the quarterback, poor chemistry between the quarterback and wide receivers, and/or poor play calling, depending on your favorite interpretation.
To put it bluntly, the 2021 Browns had a premier running game with three running backs who had very good years. The passing game stunk up the joint. The point of discussion is whose fault it was.
There is a bad rap that running teams are not good second-half teams. That’s totally bogus. The reality is that those three and four-yard gains in the first half become five and six-yard gains in the second half, as the defense wears down. The chance of a big running play increases in the second half.
This fan doesn’t have a way to systematically list all the big plays that Chubb has made in the second half of football games. But just to cite a few examples:
- Fourth quarter, 41-yard touchdown run vs Oakland, 2018
- Third quarter 92-yard touchdown run vs Atlanta, 2018.
- Fourth quarter 88-yard touchdown run versus Baltimore 2019
- Fourth quarter 59-yard run versus Houston, 2020
- Third quarter 20-yard touchdown run versus Washington, 2020
- Fourth quarter 40-yard pass reception touchdown versus Pittsburgh, 2020
- Third quarter 52-yard touchdown run versus Chargers, 2021
- Third quarter 70-yard touchdown run versus Cincinnati, 2021
- Third quarter 35-yard run vs Cincinnati, 2021.
The whole point of the Kevin Stefanski offense was to control the football, keep the defense well rested so that they can exert maximum pressure when they are on the field. The moneyball plan is to play great defense and to rely on running backs and possession receivers, especially tight ends, rather than super expensive wide receivers.
A team that does that will win football games, even with a game manager quarterback on his rookie contract, and contend for the playoffs, which is all that fans (and owners) can realistically expect.
The idea that there is going to be a superhuman “franchise quarterback” who will make the Browns into prohibitive favorites every game, like Ohio State in the college ranks, is not realistic. Fans — and owners need to temper their expectations about what quarterbacks can actually do.