Browns duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt punishing NFL defenses

BEREA, Ohio -- To cap off the Cleveland Browns' opening drive Thursday, Nick Chubb bounced off two Cincinnati Bengals defenders before carrying a third into the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown.

In the second quarter, it was Kareem Hunt's turn. On a key third-and-4, Hunt barreled through an arm tackle for the first down. Then, he finished off the possession with a touchdown grab from Baker Mayfield.

The Browns have big names attached to their passing attack, most notably Mayfield and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who each shined in the Browns' 35-30 victory over the Bengals. Yet through the first two weeks of the season, Chubb and Hunt -- and their prowess for running through tackles -- are proving to be the backbone of the Cleveland attack.

"We ask them to make some dirty runs," coach Kevin Stefanski said of his two runners. "If there's a guy unblocked or there's an arm hanging out there, they've got to run through it. When (the blocking) is perfect these guys can make some big-time plays. But even when it's not perfect, I feel confident in their abilities to gain yards on dirty runs."

The duo, which combined for 210 yards rushing against the Bengals, is achieving that as well as any backs in the league. Chubb, in fact, tops the NFL with 116 yards after contact, and Hunt is tied for second with the Dallas Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott with 99 yards. Hunt, however, is leading the NFL averaging 4.3 yards per rush after contact. Chubb is third with 3.6 yards per, which trails only Hunt and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Leonard Fournette (4.0 yards).

Though the sample size is small, those would be the highest averages after contact since at least 2009, when ESPN Stats & Information began tracking the data. In 2010, LeGarrette Blount averaged 2.94 yards after contact; Adrian Peterson posted the next-best average with 2.93 yards in 2012.

In turn, 23% of Cleveland's rushes this season have gone for at least 10 yards, by far the highest rate in the league. The Baltimore Ravens and Green Bay Packers are tied for second in rate of such runs at 18%.

"Those guys are really special," Mayfield said Thursday of Chubb and Hunt. "The offensive line played great. Those were some big holes, and those guys were not going down by just one single guy."

A revamped offensive line certainly has been part of Cleveland's early but enviable success running the ball. The Browns are fifth in run block win rate, a new metric ESPN utilizes to measure run-blocking success. That includes Austin Hooper, who ranks fifth among tight ends in run block win rate. Fullback Andy Janovich, who had a monster kick-out block on Chubb's opening-drive touchdown run, has brought physicality to the Cleveland ground game, as well.

But the ability of Chubb and Hunt to break tackles is what stands to elevate the Browns' rushing attack from good to potentially elite, and sustain drives in critical moments. Hunt is fourth league-wide with 10 rushing conversions on third down. Chubb is tied for fifth with nine third-down conversion runs.

"We both have some special talents," Hunt said, "and we both can do some great things with the ball in our hands."

That might not be changing in Cleveland any time soon, either.

Before the opener, Hunt, 25, signed a two-year extension worth $13.25 million, including $8.5 million guaranteed. That puts him under contract with the Browns for the next three seasons. Chubb, 24, will be extension-eligible, as well, after this season, though he still has another year left on his rookie deal.

Given how seamlessly Chubb and Hunt have operated together, the Browns figure to still be just as incentivized to extend Chubb, even with Hunt on such a reasonable deal for a running back. After Thursday's win, Chubb actually clamored for Hunt to be more involved in the game plan early, underscoring their chemistry off the field.

"You see what he can do," Chubb said. "He's a great back."

The Browns boast two of them. Special talents, who break through tackles and reel off dirty runs. Giving Cleveland a backfield tandem primed to be the envy of the entire league.