The tag-team performance was undoubtedly impressive. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 210 rushing yards and willed the Browns to a 35-30 victory Thursday night over the Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Fullback Andy Janovich had a great view for many of the carries and thought the running game was only scratching the surface.
“We could have run all over them all night if we wanted, which we did, but we could have had 300 or 400 yards if we wanted,” he said Friday. “We felt like we could have had more if we ran the ball more. We pass it sometimes, which I guess you have to do.
“Just watching the film today, we were one block away on two or three plays that they probably would have scored a 60- or 70-yard touchdown.”
The gaudy total they settled for didn’t surprise Chubb and Hunt. That’s how they envision the Browns star-studded offense reaching its potential.
“Yeah, most definitely,” Hunt, who ran 10 times for 86 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown, said after the game. He also caught two passes for 15 yards and a touchdown. “We both have some special talents and we both can do some great things with the ball in our hands.”
The Browns desperately needed a win after the 38-6 opening loss to the Ravens four days earlier. Chubb and Hunt combined for 132 yards and a 5.7 average in Baltimore, and Chubb said before the Bengals game “we know we can run the ball so we just have to get better at other things.”
The commitment to the run against the Bengals showed new coach Kevin Stefanski was paying attention. The Browns threw on three of the first four plays, then started to manhandle a Bengals front missing two of its top three defensive tackles. Chubb carried 22 times for 124 yards, a 5.6 average and 11- and 1-yard touchdowns.
.@NickChubb21 WILL NOT BE DENIED.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 18, 2020
The dynamic duo believes the performance was just the beginning, as they demonstrated what they can do with a heavy workload.
“Very relieved,” Hunt said. “I feel like we are game-changers, and moving forward, I would like to continue to get more touches. The both of us need them. We both make plays.”
Chubb was the go-to guy early, only leaving the field on third down or if he needed a breather. Most big-time backs, especially one who finished second in the league in rushing a year ago, would become territorial about the touches.
Not Chubb. Not with the relationship he and Hunt have developed in their year-plus together.
“Honestly, Kareem is a great back,” Chubb said. “I think we should get him more involved earlier in the game, rather than how it happened tonight. You see what he can do. We definitely need to get him involved early.”
The plan worked just fine Thursday night, with Hunt taking over for Chubb on a drive that began with 5:55 left and the Browns up 28-23. Chubb gained 4 yards and 26, then handed off to Hunt, who finished the six-play, six-run, 75-yard touchdown drive.
Hunt went for 33, 1, 10 and 1 yards to provide the two-score lead the Browns needed against rookie quarterback Joe Burrow.
“I was fresh. It is just going to be tough keeping us both contained all game,” Hunt said.
Another one for @Kareemhunt7!
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 18, 2020
Stefanski shared the credit with Janovich and the line, which also didn’t give up a sack as Chris Hubbard filled in for high-priced free agent Jack Conklin at right tackle.
“They know we are running it, we know we are running it and it is just mano y mano football, and I thought the guys responded,” Stefanski said.
“It starts with the offensive line,” Chubb said. “Those guys did a great job getting push for us. They were leaning on guys. They opened up so many holes for us. There were holes everywhere.”
The drive took the heart out of the Bengals defense.
“It is tough. That is a man stepping in front of you and saying that he is going to shove it down your throat and do better than you,” nose tackle D.J. Reader said. “He said he was going to run the rock at us, and that is what happened. Football is too intense of a game and too physical of a game for us to let that happen to us.”
Stefanski’s commitment to the run was obvious on the goal line in the third quarter. Chubb got the ball twice from the 1 and once from the 2 and couldn’t reach the end zone. When a Myles Garrett strip-sack of Burrow got the ball back for the offense at the 1, Chubb was given another chance after an incompletion and finally broke through.
“He called a great game,” Chubb said of Stefanski. “It starts with him believing in us on the goal line or in short yardage. He knows we will be able to get it done for him.”
Chubb and Hunt provide a special mix of style and skills. Chubb runs extremely hard, fights for every yard and has breakaway speed. Hunt has great burst, is shifty, doesn’t go down easily and is a dangerous receiver out of the backfield.
“They are probably the two best running backs in the NFL, if you ask me,” Janovich said. “They are both downhill runners, but Nick is just a powerful guy. Hunt, he has a lot of wiggle to him. You just watch him and people just bounce off him. I do not know how he does it.”
Center JC Tretter also watches in awe after he’s done blocking.
“They are both really patient, and I think they are both very tough to bring down with one arm,” he said. “They are great at making the first guy miss.”
The five touchdowns, 434 yards and 7.5 yards per play were quite a bounce-back after the one-score, 306-yard, 4.5-per-play opener, but no one was satisfied.
“We just want to keep growing as an offense,” Stefanski said. “I hope this is not the ceiling.”