The Browns didn't stop pounding the ball on the ground Sunday when Nick Chubb went down with a knee injury, and they don't plan to let up for however many weeks the Pro Bowl RB misses.
Cleveland, fresh off its best rushing performance since 2009, learned Monday it would be without the services of Chubb, who has an MCL injury, for "several weeks." He's headed to injured reserve, and the Browns are banking on the strength in numbers approach that worked to perfection in Sunday's 49-38 victory over the Cowboys.
"I think we are pretty confident right now," said D’Ernest Johnson, who led all Browns rushers with 95 yards Sunday. "It sucks that Nick had to get hurt. We are praying for him and praying for a speedy recovery. At the same time, we just have to continue to hold it down for the running back room."
The Browns held it down Sunday to the tune of 307 yards on 40 attempts — good for an average of 7.7 yards per attempt. Johnson, Kareem Hunt and WR Odell Beckham Jr. all cleared 70 rushing yards, marking the first time in team history three different players did it in the same game. Dontrell Hilliard, who was called up from the practice squad Wednesday, added 19 yards on five carries.
Chubb contributed 43 yards before suffering his injury early in the second quarter. He's the leader of the group — both from a production standpoint and, simply, as a leader — and will be sorely missed during his absence. There's no replacing his talent, but the Browns are confident they can keep the positive momentum rolling into an October schedule that features games against some of the league's top defenses.
"The offensive line, the tight ends and the wide receivers, they are all straining, and the runners were running through arm tackles and breaking tackles so that was good to see," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "You lose a player of Nick's caliber, we are going to need those guys to step up really across the entire offense."
Hunt, a Pro Bowler himself who led the NFL in rushing in 2017, was the player who stepped up alongside Chubb during the first three weeks, but he couldn't do it alone Sunday. Because of a groin injury, Hunt didn't practice Wednesday and Thursday before making a limited appearance in Friday's practice. The first off the bench after Chubb went down, Hunt carried the ball 11 times and scored twice in a gutsy performance.
On the season, Hunt has 50 carries for 275 yards to rank ninth in the league.
"That dude is a warrior," Stefanski said. "I love watching that guy play. To make it to that game and to perform how he did, a team player all the way. Really, really proud of him."
There was similar pride in the reinforcements behind Hunt, as Johnson and Hilliard rose to the challenge after barely playing any offensive snaps during the first three weeks.
Johnson, one of the best stories in the NFL, set career highs with 13 carries and 95 yards. Two years removed from working on a fishing boat while maintaining his dreams of playing professional football, Johnson is squarely in the middle of Cleveland's rushing plans as the team prepares for Sunday's game against the Colts.
"I just stayed patient," Johnson said. "I did everything I had to do on special teams, and when my name number was called, I had to make sure I was ready."
The Browns are prepared to be without Chubb for the next several weeks.
With him for the majority of the first four games, they established themselves as one of the league's best rushing attacks, ranking first in rushing yards (818), rushing yards per attempt (5.88) and rushing touchdowns (eight). It's been the biggest reason why the Browns boast one of the NFL's best red zone offenses.
Without Chubb for roughly three quarters Sunday, the Browns looked like a team that can keep it up while he heals up. The extra emphasis is on "team" because it will take all 11 on the field to help replace a player as good as Chubb.
"We take a lot of pride in running the ball," Johnson said. "When your opportunities come, you have to make the best of it, and I think that is what we all did … Every time we have an opportunity, we try to make the best of it."
Check out the best photos from the Browns win over the Dallas Cowboys yesterday by the Browns photo team