NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The 2019 rushing title seemed like it was wrapped up for Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb going into the last game. Even though he finished with 41 rushing yards against the Cincinnati Bengals in the finale, Chubb's total was at 1,494 yards for the campaign.
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry was within striking distance at 1,329 yards but needed at least 165 yards against the Houston Texans. Henry delivered a 211-yard outing to become the first player since Barry Sanders in 1990 to win the rushing title without leading the league in rushing until the final week of the season.
When the Titans met the Browns last year, Tennessee held Chubb to 75 yards in its 43-13 win in the season opener. This year's version of the Browns' rushing attack will be different when the teams face off here on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
In addition to Chubb, the Browns have 2017 rushing champ Kareem Hunt. Both players have a shot to reach 1,000 yards this season, even though Chubb missed four games with a knee injury. Having grown up as a Browns fan in Ohio, Titans coach Mike Vrabel has to figure out how to stop a modern-day version of the Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner duo that tag-teamed opposing defenses for the Browns in the 1980s.
"Both [Chubb and Hunt] are excellent, very good players. Vision, strength, lower body strength, they break tackles, they stretch, cut and have the ability to get to the edge," Vrabel said. "Sitting there watching them, it’s like you forget sometimes that you got to find ways to stop them, because you like the way they play and the way that these guys are blocking for them in front."
It's rare when Henry and the Titans take the field against a team that can unleash a similarly devastating rushing attack. The Browns lead the NFL in rushing yards per game (161), three more yards than Tennessee's 158.2.
"Nick is averaging six yards a carry, had a 100 yards [each game] since he’s been back," Henry said. "I think that speaks for itself. Kareem is a great back, good out of the backfield receiving. One of the best duos in the game, if not the best. Those guys are ballers."
Henry's 1,257 yards leads all NFL running backs. The similarities between him and Chubb are abundant.
Both are big, powerful backs capable of scoring from anywhere on the field. Henry and Chubb have combined for three of the six runs of 50 yards or more in the fourth quarter this season. That's no coincidence, since they are able to wear down defenses throughout the course of games.
Henry leads all backs with 431 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Chubb's whopping 12.6 yards per carry in the fourth quarter is tops in the NFL this season.
"When you have a back like Derrick Henry and you're able to have the lead and then lean on people in the fourth quarter, that's ideal for a team that believes in its running game," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "We've been fortunate to have a lead in the fourth quarter a few games this year, and Nick, in particular, has ripped off some big ones."
Since the start of last season, Henry's 13 100-yard rushing games are more than that of any other back. But Chubb is right behind him with 12 despite missing the four games.
Titans running backs coach Tony Dews has been known to showcase Chubb and other running backs in film cutups he gives his players to watch.
"He's explosive," Dews said of Chubb. "They run the outside zone scheme, and he does a great job with his tracks and his vision. His ball security and the way he reads things with decisiveness and vision, you can show those things. His pad level when he's running through tackles and things like that."
The Titans had their share of struggles earlier in the season when they gave up 165 yards on the ground to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 2 and the Minnesota Vikings' Dalvin Cook put up 181 yards the following week. Tennessee has shown improvement in its rushing defense, but the Titans will have their hands full trying to stop Cleveland.
The Browns use a lot of the same zone concepts Cook and the Vikings employed. But Cleveland has one of the best offensive lines, which is in large part thanks to the addition of former Titans right tackle Jack Conklin. The Browns also used their first-round pick to add left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., and third-year offensive lineman Wyatt Teller has developed into a bulldozing right guard.
Much like the Titans, Cleveland likes to get out to a fast start and slowly choke teams away with an onslaught of running plays. This week, the Titans could get a taste of their own medicine.
Vrabel has stressed swarming to ball carriers when it comes to run defense. Given how well the Browns backs run through tackles for yards after contact, that will be especially important this week.
“We are for the most part just hard, hard runners," Chubb said of himself and Hunt. "We do not do a lot of dancing. Just kind of north-to-south guys, and I think that is why we have the missed tackles stats that we have.”