Nick Chubb's teammates show unwavering support as he works on curbing fumbles

A quick look at the NFL's rushing leaders lists Minnesota's Dalvin Cook and Jacksonville's Leonard Fournette in first and second in total yards. Third place belongs to the Browns' Nick Chubb.

While the rest of the Browns' offense has been less than consistent during the 2019 season, Chubb has been the exact opposite. Take his yards per carry, for example. Despite trailing Cook and Fournette in total yards, the second-year back is leading both of them in yards per rush at 5.5. That means that, theoretically, if the Browns ran the ball with Chubb on first and second down, they'd never meet third down in a possession. 

It's not that simple, obviously, but that's how effective Chubb has been. He's been able to cut the down-and-distance situation in half on average just by taking a handoff, usually breaking a tackle and surging forward. Per Pro Football Focus, Chubb is tied for fifth in the NFL in missed tackles forced per attempt (among rushers with minimum 50 attempts) at 0.24, trailing New Orleans' Alvin Kamara, San Francisco's Raheem Mostert, Oakland rookie Josh Jacobs and the New York Jets' Le'Veon Bell in the category. None of those rushers have broken the 700-rushing yard mark, which Chubb broke through Sunday with his 131 yards.

He's leading the entire league in yards gained per game at 105.4. Carolina's do-everything back Christian McCaffrey is next closest at 105, and Minnesota's Cook — the league leader in total rushing yards — ranks third at 102.9.

Simply, Chubb is in the NFL's elite class of running backs in just his second season.

That's what makes Chubb's sudden spree of fumbles so surprising. While he rolled to a 996-yard finish despite starting just nine games in 2018, Chubb didn't fumble once. He's fumbled three times in the last two games.

It's uncharacteristic of the running back, both in style of play and also demeanor. He's clearly one of the organization's most cherished players, in part because of his hardworking, no-frills mentality. Chubb can be counted on to be there to make the play time and time again, earning the fondness of his head coach along the way, and rightfully so.

That same respect for Chubb showed Sunday in the moments immediately after the Browns' 27-13 loss to the Patriots.

"It's tough because everybody in that locker room and on our staff knows exactly who Nick Chubb is, and nothing we can say to him right now or throughout the week will do anything to really push him off his motive," quarterback Baker Mayfield said. "He's going to go back to work; I know exactly who he is. That's why we love having Nick Chubb. We're not going to stray away from giving him the ball, that's why we continued to give it to him, and we'll continue to do so as well."

Some of the circumstances surrounding Chubb's fumbles have been incredibly unfortunate. For example, his first fumble, which was returned by Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower for a touchdown, happened because guard Joel Bitonio was upended by an opponent and as his legs flew backward into the air, his foot knocked the ball out of Chubb's grasp, leaving it for the taking.

How often does that happen in football, at any level? Not often, if ever.

Chubb's second fumble came as he appeared to be finishing off another one of his tackle-breaking, trademark long touchdown runs. It looked to be a timely achievement, considering the Browns' early 10-0 deficit. But instead, New England defensive back Jonathan Jones chased down Chubb and displayed perfect form in clubbing the ball out of Chubb's grasp from behind. The punch on the ball was just enough to knock it out of the running back's arm, where a pile-up ensued. After a few tense moments, officials declared New England had gained possession. 

In less than a quarter, and on his first two carries of the day, Chubb had fumbled twice. He had every right to question his technique, even if it wasn't a fundamental error that caused the turnovers, but unfortunate happenstance.

"It's not me, I'm just going through the spell right now," Chubb said after the loss. "I just got get back to what I do and that starts in practice. I got to make sure I'm overemphasizing ball security and keeping it high and tight. The past two weeks somebody tapped it from behind in my right hand and I know that and I understand that. I just got to learn from it and get better."

Chubb is correct in identifying a common detail in two of his last three fumbles. It's how good players become even better, by correcting the minor deficiencies in their game over time with the help of lessons that are painful in the moment but valuable in the long run.

It's also important in the same initial moment for his team to pick him up. Television cameras showed a visibly frustrated Chubb immediately after his second fumble, but according to Browns players after the game, they never lost confidence in Chubb. 

"I think we were good," receiver Jarvis Landry said. "A lot of guys picking Nick [Chubb] up to be focused, to continue to run as hard as he is going to run. No one had any problems with his turnovers. Obviously, we know he's a guy that does everything right each and every day. He was just trying to make a play on both plays, made a hell of a run on the second time. It is just one of those things that come with it. Playmakers trying to make plays."

After his second fumble, Chubb carried the ball 18 more times and gained 88 yards for an average of 4.8 yards per rush. Despite being tossed twice, Chubb got back on the horse and rode it well.

The Browns will need Chubb to continue to do so if they aim to start stacking wins in their final nine games of the regular season.

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