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Special sequence by Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt shows why Browns 'keep plugging' with run game

Kevin Stefanski kept feeding his running backs despite a slow start Sunday against the Eagles

As Kevin Stefanski looked over the stats from the first half of the Browns' Week 11 game against the Philadelphia Eagles, he knew he needed to be patient.

The Browns were up 7-0 during a rainy afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium even though their rushing attack hadn't produced its usual numbers. Pro Bowl running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt had combined for just 18 yards on 13 attempts against the Eagles, who ranked 26th against the run before Sunday but played more like a brick wall against Chubb and Hunt in the first half.

Stefanski wasn't going to flinch at their early struggles. The Browns had found more success in the passing game — quarterback Baker Mayfield was 7-for-15 with 112 passing yards, a solid performance despite the wet conditions — but Stefanski hadn't lost any faith in his running backs. 

He knew big plays were still ahead.

"We were searching for the right personnel group and searching for the right scheme," Stefanski said in his postgame interview. "That is a good run team. We knew it was not going to be easy."

Stefanski stuck with his run game, and his patience finally paid off on a fourth-quarter drive that provided two of the most memorable plays of the season in their 22-17 win.

The first play was made by Chubb. He was handed the ball at Cleveland's 39-yard line, juked to the left side and then started a full-speed sprint up field. The first player that touched him was defensive end Joe Ostman, who was thwarted to the ground by Chubb with a vicious stiff-arm that instantly made the run highlight-reel worthy.

But he wasn't done. The stiff-arm cleared another 40 yards of space for Chubb, who broke another two tackles before finally being brought down at Philadelphia's 7-yard line. Chubb was tackled 5 yards shy of his longest run of the season, which he recorded last week when he stepped out of bounds at the 1-yard line to ensure the Browns could run out the clock for a win.

The Browns' first big rushing play was complete, and it came at a crucial time as they attempted to widen their 12-10 lead.

"It felt good," Chubb said. "That is what we are about. We keep plugging, we keep plugging and keep hitting it. We know one is going to come sooner or later, and it came at a perfect time."

Check out photos of the Eagles against the Browns

The next big run came two plays later. This time, the handoff went to Hunt, who sprinted toward the right sideline and raced to the pylon. 

One problem: Safety Rodney McLeod was in his way and had both feet set to make a tackle a few yards short of the goal-line.

So, Hunt decided to jump.

He cleared both legs over McLeod's shoulders and churned his legs through the air as he soared over McLeod. When Hunt finally returned to the ground, he was a few feet away from the end zone and fell inside the pylon. 

Yes, Hunt jumped 4 yards through the air to score the touchdown.

"It was like he never stops going up," Mayfield said. "He jumped and just kept levitating. It was like a Super Mario double-bounce."

The Browns scored their second touchdown of the afternoon behind two stellar plays from their running backs. Stefanski knew those plays would come, which is why he continued to feed them the ball with 22 combined carries in the second half.

He stuck with the plan, which — for nearly every game this season — has been to stick with his running backs. The Browns were certainly aided by the dominant display from their defense, which never allowed the Eagles to build a lead, but Cleveland wore out the Eagles in the fourth quarter. When the clock expired, the Browns had accrued 137 rushing yards on 40 attempts.

That's the advantage of having two Pro Bowl backs in the same uniform. Chubb and Hunt were both fresh in the final minutes, and that made it easy for them to deliver stiff-arms, break tackles and, in the case of Hunt, hurdle over a defender while still advancing 4 yards into the end zone.

"We just felt like we were going to stick with a balanced approach there, give those guys a few turns and make sure we were making ourselves difficult to defend," Stefanski said Monday. "Then, with their ability to break a couple late in the game, I think that was how we were able to cement the lead and get out of there with a win."

Not many defenses have been able to stop that plan all season, which is why the Browns have the third-best rushing attack in the NFL after Week 11. With Chubb and Hunt together, that positioning likely won't change anytime soon.

Stefanski's plan won't change, either. He's going to continue to bet on his running backs to win.

"I think they are the type of runners that will eventually pop one," he said.