Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt no longer surprise anyone when they run the football.
The Browns — and everyone else around the NFL — are used to seeing Chubb run through a defender or two or use a stiff-arm to break away for a big carry. They're also used to seeing Hunt break a few tackles on just about every run and find new ways to fall forward whenever defenders manage to bring him to the turf.
So it's also no surprise to see the Browns lead the league in nearly every major rushing category five weeks into the regular season. Cleveland leads the NFL in rushing yards (938), rushing average (5.36), rushing touchdowns (12), rushing first downs (51) and are tied for first in rushes of 10-plus yards (27). They've also rushed for at least 150 yards in all five games this season, the team's longest streak since 1967.
Chubb and Hunt are running at a historic level — but, again, that's no surprise to anyone who's watched them since they became a Browns duo in 2019.
"That is what we are based on is the running game," offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said last week. "It starts there. There is a lot of great stuff that we do in the run game. Having those runners (RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt) are exceptional."
Check out the best photos from the Browns game against the Chargers yesterday by the Browns photo team
Chubb and Hunt continued their dominant start to the season Sunday in Los Angeles, where they rushed for 230 yards and added three touchdowns to give the Browns a shot at victory in a 47-42 loss.
Chubb, in particular, built his best game of the season by rushing for 161 yards, his highest total since Sept. 29, 2019, against Baltimore. He's second in the league with 523 rushing yards, 117 yards behind Derrick Henry, and has amassed an average of 8.78 yards per carry in the fourth quarter, which leads all NFL rushers since 2020.
"Nick is powerful," coach Kevin Stefanski said Sunday. "He made some big runs for us today. He has breakaway speed, as you saw. Great teammate."
Both running backs, of course, give plenty of credit from their success to the offensive line. The group has started the season at a similar level from where they left off in 2020, when they ranked as one of the best units in the league, and has continued to put out weekly displays full of punishing pull blocks — where a lineman leaves his usual spot to fulfill a blocking assignment on another part of the line — and impressive cohesion.
The group has also maintained its high quality despite injuries to tackles Jedrick Wills Jr. (ankle) and Jack Conklin (knee). Rookie fourth-rounder James Hudson III and second-year veteran Blake Hance stepped in and helped keep the run game strong.
"It starts with our guys up front and the work they put in," Van Pelt said. "The schemes that (offensive line) Coach (Bill) Callahan brings to the table are great each week, and he does a really nice job in-game of switching schemes and saying, 'Alright, we need to get to this next.' Our line does a really good job in the run blocking."
The group deserves ample credit for all of the big runs that helped the Browns rushers achieve season-high totals Sunday against the Chargers.
The best was Chubb's 52-yard touchdown run, made possible by a great sequence of blocks made at the first level of the defense. Once Chubb ran past them, he used a quick burst of speed and a few stiff-arm moves to run past anyone else in a blue jersey and sprint to the end zone.
Later in the game, Hunt scored his second touchdown of the afternoon after running to the outside and then dashing to the end zone untouched thanks to some heavy blocking up front from both the linemen and tight ends.
"I use (the O-Line) as my eyes sometimes, seeing what they see," Chubb said. "It helps me out a lot when they can knock a guy out or put them inside, so I enjoy running beside those guys."
The benefits of the run game have extended beyond just chunk plays from Chubb and Hunt. When the rushing attack is strong, the passing game has a higher chance of being successful, too, which was the case Sunday as quarterback Baker Mayfield threw for 305 yards and two touchdowns and achieved a season-best 122.5 quarterback rating.
"It makes (our job) a lot easier, I can say that," Mayfield said Sunday. "Our rushing attack, week in and week out, is one of the best in the league. We leaned on that today."
After two weeks of struggling to consistently find big plays in key moments, the offense was back on track in a big way in Week 5, and the foundation was set by the run game, which hasn't surprised anyone with its historically great start to 2021.
But the duo knows it has to keep its historic pace going for the Browns, who are 3-2 and hosting an undefeated Arizona Cardinals team in Week 6 at FirstEnergy Stadium, to continue to be in the race as one of the top teams in the AFC.
"At the end of the day, it's (about) who wants it more," Hunt said. "and we know we have to keep putting up points to win."