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Matchup to Watch

Matchup to Watch: Browns No. 1 rushing attack vs. Colts' stingy, 4th-ranked run defense

Even without Nick Chubb, the Browns must continue to find success on the ground 

If you love the kind of slobber-knocker that occurs when an irresistible force meets an immovable object, get your popcorn ready for 4:25 p.m. at FirstEnergy Stadium, when the No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL meets one of the league's stingiest run defenses. 

Last week, even after losing superstar running back Nick Chubb to a sprained MCL after only six carries, the Browns ran for 307 yards and three touchdowns against the Cowboys. The Colts meanwhile, have allowed exactly 308 yards rushing total this season through four games, fourth fewest in the NFL.  

The Browns enter Week 5 leading the NFL in rushing yards (818), yards per carry (5.9), rushing touchdowns (eight) and runs of 20-plus yards (11). Their 11 runs of more than 20 yards are the same total as the teams that rank second and third in that category combined! The Colts are giving up just 3.6 yards per carry — tied for fourth-lowest in the league — they've allowed only one rushing touchdown all year — lowest in the NFL — and have not allowed a single run of more than 20 yards, also lowest in the NFL. In other words, something's gotta give this Sunday in a showdown between two 3-1 football teams.  

Now, the Browns will be without Chubb, who has run for 335 yards, 5.9 yards per carry and four touchdowns through the first three and a half games. Luckily, the Browns have former NFL leading rusher Kareem Hunt, who has rushed for 275 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 5.5 yards per carry and will take over the primary ball-carrying role. Joining Hunt will be D’Ernest Johnson, who won his roster spot with a brilliant performance in training camp. Johnson looked to be ready to take on some real responsibilities last week in Dallas, as he led the team with 95 yards on 13 carries, good for 7.3 yards a pop, in the first significant action of his career.

Check out the best photos from the Browns win over the Dallas Cowboys yesterday by the Browns photo team

Among running backs with at least 10 carries this season, there are eight who are averaging more than 4 yards per carry after contact in the entire NFL, and three of them are Browns. The injured Chubb at 4.16, Hunt at 4.08 and Johnson at 4.57 yards per carry after contact have been among the league's truly elite thus far. In terms of the Pro Football Focus elusive rating, among runners with 10 carries, Hunt ranks fifth and Johnson ranks sixth, while Chubb checks in at 10th. The Browns runners are making more of their opportunities than any group in the NFL and they also have the benefit of running behind one of the best run blocking units (OL, TE and WR) in the entire NFL.    

Guard Wyatt Teller is the top-graded run blocking guard in the entire NFL, according to Pro Football Focus, and line-mates Jack Conklin (fourth), JC Tretter (fourth), and Joel Bitonio (11th) are all also grading as elite at their positions. Adding to the effectiveness of the offensive line are tight ends Austin Hooper and Harrison Bryant, who grade as the fifth and 14th best run blocking tight ends in the league thus far. Andy Janovich is the top-graded run blocking fullback in the entire league, and the Browns wide receiving group features three of the Top 18 run blockers in the league at that position. Head Coach Kevin Stefanski always says the run game takes all 11 players on the field to function properly, and, so far, the Browns are getting that kind of truly elite performance from the collective, which is leading to success.

This will be the toughest test yet for the Browns rushing attack, but they may get a break, as Colts All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard had to leave Week 4 with a groin injury. His status for Week 5 is in doubt. Even without Leonard, this is a formidable defense led by stud DeForest Buckner up front. No runner has picked up 65 yards against the Colts this year, and the Browns have had at least one 65-yard rusher in every game and multiple 65-yard rushers in two of their four games. The Browns also have multiple rushing touchdowns in three straight games with eight total during that span. Running successfully has equaled wins for the Browns, and you have to think that will remain the formula in Week 5 against the excellent Colts defense.

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