BEREA, Ohio -- Nick Chubb is on his way back.
And the Cleveland Browns running game appears primed to rediscover its stride.
Monday, Cleveland designated Chubb from injured reserve, clearing the way for the Pro Bowl running back to return to the practice field. The playing field Sunday against the Houston Texans could be next, pending the Browns activating Chubb off IR, a mere formality, assuming all goes well this week.
"He looks like Nick looks," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said of Chubb's first practice back Monday. "He's ready to roll. ... We'll see how the week unfolds here."
Before Chubb went down on Oct. 4 with a knee injury against the Dallas Cowboys, the Browns boasted a ground game unmatched in the league.
Cleveland led the NFL in rushing, while Chubb and wingman Kareem Hunt were among the league leaders in several statistical categories, including yards after contact.
But since the injury to Chubb, as well as one to right guard Wyatt Teller (calf strain) the following week, Cleveland's running game has tailed off considerably, especially against stiffer defenses.
Through the first four weeks of the season, the Browns led the NFL with almost 205 rushing yards per game -- 25 yards more than any other offense. They also topped the league with an astounding average of 5.9 yards per rushing attempt.
But in the wake of Chubb's injury, the Browns rank just 24th with 96 rushing yards per outing over the past four games. They are averaging 3.9 yards per game, which is 26th-best in the league.
Getting their running game back on track will be paramount for the Browns as they attempt to stick in the playoff hunt, despite a deflating 16-6 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders before last weekend's bye.
The Browns are still 5-3 and have a better than 50% chance of getting into the playoffs, according to the ESPN Football Power Index. Cleveland also has the advantage of the third-easiest schedule remaining in the league.
But in a competitive AFC playoff race featuring three other 5-3 teams in the Raiders, Colts and Dolphins vying for the three wild-card spots -- not to mention the 6-2 Baltimore Ravens -- snapping the NFL's longest playoff drought of 18 years is certainly no lock.
Yet, behind a surprisingly stalwart offensive line, which could be getting back Teller, who also practiced Monday after missing three games, the running game could soon begin overpowering the opposition once again.
Even after the past month, the Browns are seventh in the league in win block run rate after finishing next-to-last there in 2019. Rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills, Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio, center JC Tretter and All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin rank in the top 100 individually in run block win rate, with Bitonio leading all guards.
Teller, meanwhile, a mauler as a pulling guard, will bring back that element to the Browns' blocking schemes.
"We'll see how this unfolds, but you're talking about two good football players," Stefanski said of Teller and Chubb. "If we're able to get them back, that will be a boost to our team."
Getting those two back would restore the offensive line while allowing Hunt to go back to being the game's preeminent backup rusher. And with Chubb back to lead the way, the Browns' running game figures to be on its way back to its full capability, in time for the stretch run and playoff push.