Chubb and Hunt become Browns’ backfield ‘Odd Couple’
CLEVELAND (AP) — One is quiet, steady and a rising NFL star. Cleveland’s other running back is more outgoing and has his career back on track after a major detour.
So similar on the field, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are different outside the lines.
“The odd couple,” Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said.
And perhaps the most feared rushing duo in the league, a two-headed monster capable of a big-yardage play from anywhere on the field.
With a combined 1,538 yards rushing heading into Monday night’s game against Baltimore — an AFC North matchup with major playoff implications for both teams — Chubb and Hunt are on pace to become just the eighth pair of teammates to each break 1,000 yards in a season.
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (1,206) and Mark Ingram (1,018) were the previous to do it, joining the exclusive list last season.
But it’s a rare feat and the fact that Chubb (799 yards) is among the league’s leading rushers despite missing four games with a sprained right knee, makes it that much more impressive.
Making the double, 1,000-yard club has been a goal since training camp.
“I have been fired up,” Browns running backs coach Stump Mitchell said. “That is going to happen. I knew that was going to happen before the season started. That is going to happen. It is just a matter of what game it is going to happen.”
The Chubb-Hunt combination is one of the main reasons behind this season’s turnaround for the Browns (9-3), which didn’t start until after a 38-6 loss to the Ravens in Week 1.
But first-year coach Kevin Stefanski has leaned on his two running backs — and a solid offensive line — during some rough-weather games and to put away teams in the second half.
Heavy doses of Chubb and Hunt can have a cumulative effect on defenses, wearing them down late in games. That’s happened several times as either Chubb or Hunt — or both — have broken off huge gains with the game on the line.
Chubb to the right. Hunt to the left. Knockout.
And while it would be reasonable to assume the backs might be resentful at times of each other or jealous that one may be getting more opportunities, the opposite is true.
Chubb and Hunt get along splendidly. The two backs run in sync.
“These guys, they embody who we are as a team,” said Browns receiver Jarvis Landy. “Nick Chubb, a stand-up guy. I do not know if there is a bad bone in his body. He is one of the nicest people that I have ever met, and then on Sunday, he turns into a whole different person.
“The same with Kareem — quiet, soft spoken, but he gets on the field and he is a totally different person. At the end of the day, I think they both understand what they bring to the table and that they are both beneficial. They know that together they can do something special.”
The Browns view them both as starters even though it’s usually Chubb who is on the field first and Hunt is used more often on third down because of his pass-catching ability.
Chubb has a hit-the-hole, straight-ahead approach. Nothing fancy. He’s pretty much the same when he’s not playing, but Hunt has figured out how to soften up his teammate.
“Kareem is the one that gets me talking more and laughing more in the locker room than everybody, just because of his personality,” said Chubb, who is averaging 6.0 yards per carry. “I do enjoy that, hanging out and laughing and cutting up a little bit.”
Getting Chubb to crack isn’t easy.
“I think I had him smile the other day,” Van Pelt said. “He had his mask on. I did see his eyes wrinkle up a little bit like a smile. If anybody can get someone out of their shell, it is definitely Kareem. He has a great sense of humor and a great way about him.”
Hunt, who hasn’t been a problem this season after coming to Cleveland last year with baggage attached to his eight-game league suspension for violent behavior, enjoys trying to get his unflappable teammate to lighten up.
“I kind of get Nick a little bit,” said Hunt, who has scored eight TDs. “We see eye to eye on a lot of things, both playing football our whole life and so I am able to relate on things like that and stuff he sees. It is a lot of different things.”
That chemistry has positioned the Browns to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002, and maybe even make a postseason run — right behind their two backs, who don’t mind sharing the ball or the spotlight.
“When we both take the field,” Hunt said. “You never know.”