NFL Week 7 Gamebreakers: Can Nick Chubb Carry the Browns in AFC North Battle?

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Nick Chubb #24 of the Cleveland Browns runs with the ball against the Atlanta Falcons. Todd Kirkland/Getty Images/AFP.

Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb has never won a rushing title in his first four seasons, but he is leading the NFL with 649 rushing yards this season. With an important game for the struggling Browns (2-4) in Baltimore, Chubb is going to have to shine after his season-low 56 rushing yards last week against the Patriots.

While Chubb’s opponent this week, Lamar Jackson, is clearly the best running quarterback in football and currently fifth in the league in rushing (451 yards), Chubb can make an argument that he is the best runner at his position right now.

The Browns are a 6-point underdog at many of the top-rated sportsbooks. We look at how Chubb has done historically against the Ravens and if he can lead Cleveland to an upset on Sunday.

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Cleveland Browns vs. Baltimore Ravens

Sunday, October 23, 2022 – 01:00 PM EDT at M&T Bank Stadium

Nick Chubb’s Rise to the Top

In today’s pass-happy era in the NFL, Chubb is really a throwback to the old days. When you play running back for Cleveland, you already are judged by a higher standard with running backs Jim Brown, Marion Motley, and Leroy Kelly all in the Hall of Fame for what they accomplished with the Browns.

Drafted by the Browns in the second round in 2018, Chubb has 5,465 career rushing yards. He only needs 32 yards on Sunday to move into No. 4 all-time for Cleveland’s rushing leaders.

With Chubb averaging a career-high 108.2 rushing yards per game, he could also notch his first 1,500-yard rushing season in 2022. His career-best was 1,494 yards in 2019, and he has missed at least three games in each of the last two years.

Chubb would have been a bigger deal 20 years ago when the NFL was loaded with workhorse backs who did so much for their offenses. From 2002 to 2006, there were 25 instances of a running back rushing for 1,500 yards in a season. In the next 15 seasons, there were only 17 instances. Since Chubb was drafted in 2018, it has only happened four times.

Competition in the NFL

Chubb has never received the attention as the best running back in the league, and that is understandable. When he broke out in 2019, he still lost the rushing title to Tennessee’s Derrick Henry, who also doubled him up in rushing touchdowns.

He also was well behind the lead in yards from scrimmage as Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey had 2,392 yards. McCaffrey caught 116 balls that year. Chubb has caught 99 in 64 career games. They are different kinds of backs, though McCaffrey has struggled to stay healthy since 2019 ended.

In 2020, Henry repeated as rushing champion with a famed 2,000-yard season. No disrespect to Henry, but his career did take off in 2019 when the Titans finally found a higher level of quarterback play from Ryan Tannehill, which helps to extend drives and gives Henry more opportunities to produce.

Waiting for Watson

Stuck in Cleveland, Chubb did not have to deal with the team’s notorious revolving door at quarterback, but he was in the same class with Baker Mayfield, who struggled to rise above mediocrity for most of his career there.

Chubb is now trying to carry an offense with backup Jacoby Brissett at quarterback as the team waits for Deshaun Watson’s suspension to end in December. From a strictly on-field football perspective, Chubb playing in an offense with Watson could be dynamic and highly successful for the Browns.

They just have to get a couple more wins in these next few games to make sure they are not wasting a year of Chubb’s prime as he will turn 27 in December.

Chubb’s Historic Stat: Yards Per Carry

With Taylor having a rough, injury-plagued year for the Colts, and Henry getting off to a slow start in Tennessee, Chubb is making a strong run at the rushing title this year. The only player even close to him is Saquon Barkley, who is 33 yards behind him.

Despite not having a run longer than 41 yards this year, Chubb is averaging a career-high 5.9 yards per carry in 2022. With 110 carries on the season, he will have already tied the NFL record for most seasons with 5.0 yards per carry on at least 100 carries. He will have done it in his first five seasons.

But Chubb has averaged at least 5.0 yards per carry on at least 190 carries in each of his first four seasons. That is an NFL record as no one else has done it more than three years in a row. The only players to do it five times in their careers are Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, and Jamaal Charles. Chubb is in elite company.

Chubb's Success This Year

This season, Chubb’s rushing success rate is 54% at Football Outsiders, which ranks 12th among running backs and would be the best season of Chubb’s career. Rushing success rate takes into account the yards gained and what the down-and-distance was. A 5-yard run on third-and-15 is not a success, but a 5-yard run on second-and-two is.

Chubb may not be a skilled receiver, but he is a consistently great runner. Backup Kareem Hunt is a solid back in his own right, but in playing in the same offense with the same offensive line as Chubb since 2020, he has never averaged better than 4.9 yards per carry. He averages 4.4 yards per carry with the Browns.

Chubb also continues to excel despite facing loaded boxes with eight or more defenders on 29.1% of his runs this season according to Next Gen Stats. Only four backs have faced a loaded box more often.

Is Baltimore the Kryptonite for Chubb?

Chubb has faced the Ravens eight times with seven starts in his career. Things have not gone as well as he would like:

  • Against Baltimore, Chubb averages 56.6 rushing yards per game and 4.58 yards per carry.
  • He scored touchdowns in two out of eight games but had multiple touchdowns each time.
  • He only broke 60 rushing yards twice with one 100-yard rushing game.
  • In his last game at Baltimore (2021), he was held to 16 rushing yards on eight carries, his least productive game as a runner since his rookie season.
  • Chubb has 14 starts where he did not rush for more than 60 yards and five of them are against the Ravens, including his two worst games as a starter (16 and 24 yards).
  • Out of the 13 teams Chubb has faced multiple times, only the Ravens (56.6) and Jets (45.8) have held Chubb under 72.0 rushing yards per game.

The Ravens were usually dialed in for these matchups, but it did leave them vulnerable against the pass. Baker Mayfield has five games in his career with 340 passing yards and four of them were against Baltimore in 2018-20. In those four games, Cleveland was 2-2 against Baltimore and the two losses were by a combined seven points.

But in most seasons, the Browns enter this matchup with a significant disadvantage on offense. That is not the case right now. The Browns are actually averaging more yards per drive (37.4) than the Ravens (36.0) this season.

Teams like to attack the Ravens through the air as the Ravens have faced the third-most passes and sixth-fewest runs. But the Browns are not going to change who they are. Chubb will see his share of touches as they limit Brissett’s attempts.

The Ravens are also just 18th in yards per carry allowed and 24th in rushing DVOA, so it’s not like they are shutting teams down. Saquon Barkley just had a patient 22 carry, 83 yards with a touchdown day against the Ravens in a comeback win for the Giants. That is in Chubb’s wheelhouse for sure.

Browns vs. Ravens: Pick and Predictions

The Ravens are just 3-3 despite holding a double-digit lead in every game this season. Cleveland just took one on the chin against New England (38-15), but every other game has been close in the fourth quarter this season.

While divisional rivals do fare better against Chubb than most in the league, he should be better this week after not breaking 60 yards or finding the end zone last week.

The Ravens may very well win this game to drop Cleveland to 2-5, but the best NFL pick in this matchup is to take the Browns with the points. The Ravens simply cannot find a big lead they like to hold anymore.

NFL Pick: Browns +6 (-110) at Bovada (visit our Bovada Review)

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Browns +6 (-110)
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