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How the Browns can stay in the playoff hunt while Deshaun Watson is suspended: Nick Chubb dominates

The Plain Dealer  Cleveland logo The Plain Dealer Cleveland 9/8/2022 Dan Labbe, cleveland.com
Ravens special teams coordinator Chris Horton, left, checks out rookie punter Jordan Stout during warmups before the preseason opener against the Titans. Stout punted brilliantly for much of training camp and the preseason, his balls soaring majestically and then dropping dead a few yards from the goal line. © Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun Ravens special teams coordinator Chris Horton, left, checks out rookie punter Jordan Stout during warmups before the preseason opener against the Titans. Stout punted brilliantly for much of training camp and the preseason, his balls soaring majestically and then dropping dead a few yards from the goal line.

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Had Nick Chubb carried the ball as many times as Jonathan Taylor a year ago, he would have won the rushing title — at least had he stayed at the pace he was on.

As it is, Taylor carried the ball 104 more times than Chubb in 2021, in part because Chubb missed three games, and in part because he carried the ball more than 20 times in just five games last season and never carried the ball more than 23 times.

Taylor had just six games of 20 or more carries but, notably, had two 32-carry games and games of 29 and 27 carries.

There were times last year when it was fair to wonder why the Browns couldn’t have played more like the Colts with Taylor, doing everything possible to minimize the damage their quarterback could do by relying on their star runner. That strategy eventually fizzled out for Indianapolis, too.

The point here isn’t to relitigate the 2021 campaigns of the Browns or Colts. It’s to remind you of two things: Chubb is still the best runner in football and if there were ever a year for the Browns to lean heavily on him, it’s this year.

Nick Chubb could carry the Browns to playoff contention over the season's first 11 games. © Joshua Gunter/cleveland.com/TNS Nick Chubb could carry the Browns to playoff contention over the season's first 11 games.

Chubb doesn’t need to carry the ball 378 times like Derrick Henry did for the Titans in 2020, but if the Browns are able to navigate 11 games without Deshaun Watson and remain in playoff contention, it will have to be done, in part, on the back of Chubb.

When discussing Jacoby Brissett and the possibility for a successful start to the season, many point to the 5-2 start the Colts had in 2019, most of which came on efficient, low-volume passing performances. For the year, Brissett finished 23rd in the NFL in pass attempts and 25th in completions. Meanwhile, the Colts gave the ball to running back Marlon Mack to the tune of the ninth-most carries in the league, leading to his only 1,000-yard rushing season.

Mack carried 29 times for 132 yards in the Colts’ Sunday night win over Kansas City in 2019, what turned out to be the peak of their season.

The Browns’ offense doesn’t need to play like it’s 1962 for the Browns to be successful, and the short, quick passing game will aid them. The expectation is there will be plenty of two-back sets and the Browns have the luxury of having at least three qualified runners in Chubb, Kareem Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson — and a likely fourth if Jerome Ford is as ready as he looked in the preseason.

The Browns are on a Drive to Survive and stay in the playoff hunt while Deshaun Watson is suspended for the first 11 games of the 2022 season. © Joshua Gunter/cleveland.com/TNS The Browns are on a Drive to Survive and stay in the playoff hunt while Deshaun Watson is suspended for the first 11 games of the 2022 season.

Still, Chubb is this team’s meal ticket on offense for the first three months of the season. He’s a big play waiting to happen whenever he touches the ball and the Browns’ balancing act of leaning on him and preserving him should tilt toward the former early in this season.

The best skill player on this offense is Chubb and the most sure things on the offensive line are the pulling guards, Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller. If the Browns are going to set themselves up for a run in December and January, leaning on those three pieces of the offense should be a main reason.

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