Ever since the Browns paired Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt together in 2019, Cleveland's offense has touted one of the most potent run games in the NFL. By now, every opponent knows the Browns are going to run the ball — a lot.
Yet three games into 2022, Cleveland's run game is operating at its most efficient pace yet.
No team has run the ball more than the Browns, who lead the league with 114 rushing attempts and 572 yards. 62 of those carries have come from Chubb, who leads all NFL rushers with 341 yards and is tied with Detroit's Jamaal Williams for the league lead with four rushing touchdowns.
The run game has allowed the Browns to build the fifth-most efficient offense in the league, producing 378.7 yards per game and generating at least 26 points in the first three games. Not many expected the group to open the year on such a productive note with QB Jacoby Brissett, whose entire seven-year career had been built on serving as a backup and being thrusted into starting situations on mostly short notice, but the run game has been a major reason why everything has clicked so far when the Browns have possession.
"We understand what that opposes to the defense and how it wears down teams in the fourth quarter," Brissett said. "We have really good offensive linemen, and we have really good (running) backs. We would be a fool not to run the ball and make the defense defend that part of our game."
Check out photos of players and coaches working to prepare for the teams regular season game against the Atlanta Falcons
Defenses stack the box each week with the expectation that the Browns will attempt to run right through them. They've guessed correctly, and the Browns have still won that battle every game.
Chubb has been the catalyst with performances of 141, 87 and 113 rushing yards to open the year. A Pro Bowler each of the last three seasons, he appears to have found another gear as a runner and has displayed an impressive array of jump cuts and juke moves to go along with the same downhill running style he's shown since Cleveland drafted him 35th overall in 2018. He's even appeared to add more hurdle attempts to his game this year as he attempts to fight for every yard.
It's the same type of "reckless abandon" that Hunt has always carried in his tool belt, too, although his rushing numbers aren't nearly as high as Chubb's in 2022. Hunt has 36 carries for 151 yards and has averaged 4.2 yards per carry, a drop from the 4.9 yards he averaged last year.
The Browns still won't hesitate to give either of them the ball, and Hunt has enjoyed watching Chubb find another layer of aggression to his game.
"He took that out of my playbook," he said with a laugh. "Nah, I'm just messing with him. Nick's a heck of a tailback. He can do that stuff, too. I love to see when he does it. It gets me pumped and excited."
Players with the rare skills Chubb and Hunt carry look even better when an offensive line moves defenders in the manner the Browns' big men have done.
That work has been highlighted even further by guards Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller, who are each building Pro Bowl seasons again after they both were voted in last year. They've been the best guard tandem in the league since Teller became a starter on the right side in 2020, and the Browns have maximized their run game by using the two heavyweights to pull around the line and plow defenders away from whoever has the ball.
Teller ranks second among guards with an 84.4 run block grade from Pro Football Focus. Bitonio ranks 10th with a 75.4 grade. No other team has two guards in the top 10.
"(Pull blocks) are definitely tiring, but we all have a job to do," Teller said. "I think that's what kind of sets our offensive line apart. Having two talented guards right on the same offensive line, it helps. We can get your eye candy with what we're doing. If it's a pull and we have to make a play, we trust the guys out there, Nick and Kareem, and we're getting good blocking on the edge.
"While it looks like it's Joel and I out there, there's at least nine other guys out there all doing it, too."
When the run game dominates, the pass game opens up. Brissett has been one of the most efficient passers in the league this year and ranks 10th with a 94.3 passer rating. He's connected most with WR Amari Cooper, who last week became the first Browns receiver since Josh Gordon in 2013 to top 100 receiving yards in back-to-back games.
Brissett is off to his best start to a season since 2015, when he started the year at 5-2 with the Colts. With 202 receiving yards in the last two weeks, Cooper has been his favorite target and has been open most times Brissett has looked his way. That's usually because defenses have to choose between shading defenders Cooper's way or moving them closer to the line of scrimmage to stop the run.
No team has been able to do both.
"I think having the run game where we are right now, teams are more apprehensive to keep the middle of the field open and double a receiver," offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said. "Definitely a benefit."
That's what having an elite run game can do, and right now, it's playing at its best level yet.