The Browns' run game was at its best in their 29-17 win Thursday night against the Steelers, and much of that success can be attributed to the offensive line returning one of its core blockers for the first time this season.
OT Jack Conklin was back at right tackle following a lengthy recovery from the torn right patella tendon that ended his season in Week 12 last year. With Conklin back, the Browns started four of their five top O-line starters for the first time — C Nick Harris, who is out for the season with a torn ACL injury was the only missing starter — and mowed throw the Steelers defense with their typical display of pull blocks and shoves in the trenches.
The group cleared paths for 171 rushing yards, a superb total that was stunningly the Browns' lowest of the season so far. They've generated 572 rushing yards already this year, which is their highest total through three games since 1958.
Conklin's return was a huge reason why they kept the momentum going.
"I appreciate the team letting me get my health back to where I can come out tonight at full strength," he said. "I felt great and comfortable out there. Could not be happier with how the team played. Great team win."
Conklin was ruled out for the first two games of the season as the Browns took a cautious approach in bringing him back. He had been a limited participant in practices dating all the way back to the first week of training camp, but the patience paid off Sunday with Conklin allowing zero sacks and earning a respectable 69.0 grade from Pro Football Focus.
"I thought Jack was really good," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "It was great to see him back out there. He battled and was physical, and he was good in the run game and the pass game."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Steelers in Week 3
Rare no-sack game for Myles
Myles Garrett remains one sack away from topping the franchise sack record set by Clay Matthews (62) after he was held to a rare zero-sack performance.
No-sack games are uncommon for Garrett. He's only had 24 of them in his career and has compiled 47 games with at least a half-sack, and Stefanski gave credit to the Steelers for double- and triple-teaming Garrett all night. The Browns mustered just one sack all game, which came from LB Jacob Phillips.
"That's what you can expect teams (to do)," Stefanski said. "They'll wait to see where (Garrett) lines up, and they're going to move the tight end to his side. They'll send the line his way, and they'll send the (running) back his way. That's just the nature of how teams are going to try and defend us."
Browns stay creative with extra O-line help
The Browns continued to use backup guard and center Michael Dunn as an extra tight end on a few plays Thursday, following a trend they've used in all three games so far this season. They also used G Hjalte Froholdt as a fullback on Chubb's 1-yard touchdown run, a move that worked well since Froholdt and G Joel Bitonio each cleared blockers out of the way for Chubb's hurdle into the end zone.
Those looks won't be going away soon as Stefanski continues to find creative ways to maximize the Browns' run game.
"I think we've done a lot of it throughout the course of this season so far," Stefanski said. "There are other things we can do, but yes, we can continue to grow those types of things."