CLEVELAND – The severe weather finally went away.
But Nick Chubb would not.
After a four-game absence due to a knee injury, Chubb returned Sunday with a pair of critical runs in the fourth quarter, lifting the Cleveland Browns to a 10-7 victory over the Houston Texans after a 37-minute weather delay.
Early in the fourth quarter, Chubb cut back virtually untouched against the Texans defense for a nine-yard touchdown, putting the Browns up two scores. Then on third-and-three with just over a minute left, he broke through the Houston defense down the sidelines for a 59-yard scamper.
Chubb could’ve walked in for his second touchdown. Instead he stepped out of bounds at the 1-yard line, so the Browns could take a knee and end the game.
All told, Chubb rushed for 126 yards on 19 carries, while running back wingman Kareem Hunt added 104 yards on the ground.
Before Chubb’s injury, the Browns led the NFL in rushing yards per game, yards per carry and rushing touchdowns. But after the injury, Cleveland’s running game cratered, even with Hunt, as the Browns were just 25th or worse in rushing yards per game, yards per rush and rushing scores over the last four games without Chubb.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield noted this week that having Chubb and Hunt together is what really had made Cleveland’s running game special, with their fresh legs “wearing on defenses”.
Based on Chubb's return Sunday, it looks like the Browns’ ground game is on the way back to being special once again.
Describe the game in two words: Snooze fest. Underscoring this, the most interesting development during an incredibly uneventful third quarter was a pigeon that refused to leave the playing field, no matter how close the action came to it.
Pivotal play: Early in the second quarter, the Texans faced fourth-and-goal from the Cleveland 2-yard line. Instead of taking the points, Houston dialed up a predictable Deshaun Watson draw out of an empty formation. Myles Garrett saw it coming and corralled Watson behind the line of scrimmage before slamming him into the turf. Garrett continues to build his case for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Troubling trend: The rainy and windy weather certainly has had an impact on slowing the Browns offense these last two games. Still, Cleveland’s attack hasn’t flashed much pop since the Cincinnati win Oct. 25, during which star wideout Odell Beckham Jr. was lost for the year with a knee injury. Maybe the Browns will snap out of it, especially under better conditions. But it’s concerning just how ineffective the offense has been overall without Beckham’s playmaking and, perhaps more importantly, the attention he commands from opposing defenses, which seemingly opened up the running game as well as opportunities for Cleveland’s other pass-catchers.