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'A sight to behold': Browns' Nick Chubb at his tackle-breaking best in opening victory

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The stat sheet reads “Nick Chubb right guard to CAR 25 for 9 yards,” a description that doesn’t come close to capturing its impact.

But Browns coach Kevin Stefanski realized the significance as the Browns pulled out a stunning 26-24 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium after giving up the lead with 1:13 remaining.

That 9-yard gain that included Chubb leaping over a pile of linemen and the previous play, a 16-yard run around right end on which Chubb sloughed off an ankle tackle by defensive end Marquis Haynes Sr., are as good as it gets, Stefanski said.

The 10-play, 57-yard drive resulted in a 36-yard Cade York field goal, but Chubb’s two runs captured what sets apart the three-time Pro Bowl running back.

“He had two runs late in the game — I’m not going to tell you the name of the play — but two runs late in the game, consecutive, that are as good as there is in the NFL,” Stefanski said on Zoom Monday. “Making guys miss, jumping over people, playing physical — it was a sight to behold.”

Browns running back Nick Chubb runs against the Panthers, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C.
Browns running back Nick Chubb runs against the Panthers, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C.

Such a strong and impassioned comment is rare from the tight-lipped Stefanski. But as Chubb gained 141 yards on 22 carries (6.4 average), he picked up 112 yards after contact, the fifth-highest total of his career, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

Against the Panthers, Chubb had two runs of 20-plus yards — a 25-yarder in the second quarter and a 20-yarder in the third. Since the start of the 2018 season, when he was drafted in the second round out of Georgia, Chubb ranks first in the league in runs of 20-plus yards with 48. Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is second with 34 and running back Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans third with 32.

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In the 40-plus yards category since 2018, Chubb has 13, the New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley 12 and Henry 11.

A ferocious, Batman-themed hype video was posted on Nick Chubb’s Instagram before Sunday’s season-opener, and Chubb backed it up.

His performance made him one of three nominees for the FedEx Ground NFL Player of the Week award. He’s vying with the Detroit Lions’ D’Andre Swift (15-144-1) and Jonathan Taylor (31-161-1) of the Indianapolis Colts.

“I'm honestly shocked Nick didn't have more,” Browns All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett said of Chubb’s total.

Browns right guard Wyatt Teller remembered Chubb’s jump the line play and joked that he thought Chubb “jump cut 15 times in one play.”

“It’s amazing. It seemed like time stood still there for a second and he was just jumping around and jumped over the play,” Teller said on Zoom. “That was just a normal zone, that wasn’t anything special, wasn’t eye candy or anything crazy. It was just a zone to the right and we had great effort on the backside that kind of pushed those players past that hole to where even if they’re on the ground it gives Nick a chance.”

Stefanski said Chubb’s yards after contact is something he and his staff harp on constantly.

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“You want to block these things up perfectly and you want to give the runner a clean hole and that type of thing, but there are plenty of dirty runs and they occur because the defense is pretty good and they're trying to stop the run,” Stefanski said. “For us mentality-wise, when we are running the ball, we want to finish our guy. Just eliminate one guy … even if that means we're leaving our runners one to make miss, we have confidence that they'll do it.”

The Browns used Chubb and Kareem Hunt, the 2017 NFL rushing champion, together more than usual, and Hunt contributed 46 yards on 11 carries and a 24-yard touchdown, along with four catches for 24 yards and a 1-yard score.

“Kareem's run, his touchdown was blocked really, really well. Read it really well, got through the first and second level of the defense and scores,” Stefanski said. “And then you've got moments where they know we're running it and it's messy in there and there's bodies all over the ground and these guys are jumping over people.

“The guys work really hard and I think it does give the O-line, the tight ends, the wide receivers, it does put in their mindset that they've just got to finish their man.”

Browns running back Nick Chubb is tackled by Panthers cornerback Keith Taylor Jr. during the first quarter Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C.
Browns running back Nick Chubb is tackled by Panthers cornerback Keith Taylor Jr. during the first quarter Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C.

Teller liked what he saw from the Chubb-Hunt combo, which also used Hunt lined up as a receiver.

“We have a two-headed monster back there and with Jerome [Ford] a three-headed monster. We’re able to do things that some teams can’t do,” Teller said. “Johnny [Stanton] was our fullback and he’s not on the team anymore, so being able to run the same plays with the players we have.

“Kareem’s not afraid of anything, he’ll run in there and hit anybody. He’s basically a fullback who’s really fast. He’s a good guy to set the block. Both can do it, and that’s what’s amazing.”

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Garrett loved what he saw from Chubb and Hunt.

“I don't think I've ever seen them lay down or shy away from a hit,” Garrett said. “That's how they've always played and that's how they've always approached the game.

“They have different running styles, but the one thing that can be said about both of them is they're relentless and trying to gain more yards … not allowing one guy to take them down. So this is no surprise.”

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Hunt’s two-touchdown day — the Kansas City Chiefs and Browns are 11-2 when that occurs — came after a difficult summer. Hunt wanted a contract extension and asked to be traded, which led to him skipping team drills for two consecutive days. Both his requests were rebuffed by the front office as he plays out the final year of his contract that will pay him a base salary of $1.35 million and a roster bonus of $4.9 million.

“I know he wants to go 1-0 and he achieved that today,” Garrett said. “So regardless of how he felt during the summer, I know he's put his head down and he's worked. He's been a great teammate, he’s fun to be around and he's a special player and we're glad to have him.”

Cleveland Browns right tackle Jack Conklin ‘very close’ to return

Stefanski said right tackle Jack Conklin did not have any setbacks in his return from surgery to repair a ruptured patellar tendon in his right knee suffered Nov. 28 at Baltimore.

“No setbacks. He's close. He's really close,” Stefanski said.  "Felt like he was close for this game, but just going to continue to make smart decisions with doctor's input, with Jack's input moving forward.”

Conklin and swing tackle Chris Hubbard (elbow), both listed as questionable, were inactive after going through an extensive pregame workout with trainers, offensive line coach Bill Callahan and assistant Scott Peters. That forced second-year man James Hudson III into the lineup for his fifth career start.

“He fought like crazy,” Stefanski said of Hudson. “Going into the game, that's a heavy pressure team. [We] knew that we'd have to be smart about our protections and not leave our guys one on one very often, but when we did they did a nice job.

“We took one sack on a first-down play, but other than that it was pretty clean, and Jacoby [Brissett] made some plays from some loud pockets.”

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This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Cleveland Browns Nick Chubb leaps line, dominates Panthers