RB Index, Week 6: Browns, Cowboys lead NFL's top five rushing duos

The Baltimore Ravens’ run of consecutive 100-yard rushing games came to an end on Monday night. The streak stopped at 43 — tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers of 1974-77 for the all-time record — and was primarily led by Lamar Jackson.

The electric quarterback led the league’s top rushing offense in 2019 and 2020. Kudos to Jackson and Co. for making history, but I’m setting QBs aside for now (this is the RB Index after all) and focusing on rushing duos this week. Specifically, running back duos.

Below are my top five running back tandems in the league heading into Week 6.

Running backs: Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt

Kevin Stefanski has it figured out. His outside zone scheme was already quarterback-friendly, and it’s even more so with a pair of Pro Bowl running backs in the backfield. In his first season as head coach, the Browns’ third-ranked run game helped the team end a near-two decade playoff drought. One year later, the run game has become the league standard. Chubb and Hunt have combined for 1,002 scrimmage yards and nine scrimmage touchdowns this season, making them only the third RB duo over the last 30 seasons to combine for at least 1,000 yards and eight TDs through their team’s first five games of a season. The Browns don’t have to change the game plan based on which player is on the field. Both Chubb and Hunt pose a major threat to defenses when running inside or outside the tackles or catching the ball out of the backfield.

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Running backs: Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard

As great as Dak Prescott and Co. have been in the passing attack, offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has continued to lean on the run game with a two-back system. The Cowboys’ second-ranked rushing attack is taking a lot of pressure off Prescott by forcing the defense to honor the run, leading the veteran QB to play some of his best football. Zeke came into this season in shape and he’s performing like it, while Pollard has been more consistently productive in an expanded role. The Cowboys are the only team with multiple players in the top 10 in rushing with Elliott ranking third with 452 rush yards and Pollard landing 10th with 325 rush yards. 

Running backs: Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison

The Vikings have a pair of homegrown talents in their backfield with Cook (second-round pick in 2017) and Mattison (third-rounder in 2019). When healthy, Cook is the engine that makes all things go for the Vikings’ offense. His success (or lack thereof) directly impacts Kirk Cousins and the passing attack. Since 2017, Cook has averaged 113.7 scrimmage yards per game, second-most in the NFL in that span. However, he’s battled an ankle injury early this season and missed Weeks 3 and 5 while playing limited snaps in Week 4. Mattison has stepped up in those games (both wins), logging 150-plus scrimmage yards in each contest. In fact, Mattison is the only player in the NFL this season with multiple games of at least 100 rush yards and 40 receiving yards — Derrick Henry is the only other player with one such game. Knowing Mattison can handle the load as the offense’s primary back while Cook heals must put the team and fan base at ease.

Running backs: Devin Singletary and Zack Moss

The Bills have trotted out a rejuvenated ground game in 2021 after ranking 20th in the league in rushing a year ago. Quarterback Josh Allen is a tremendous threat with his legs and will likely be able to get the offense out of precarious situations by utilizing his running ability, but the improvement of Singletary and Moss five weeks into the season is great to see. The Bills are averaging 140.4 rush yards per contest (fifth in the NFL) and their young running backs have provided some much-needed balance to Brian Daboll’s unit. I’ve seen the most improvement from Singletary, who’s averaging 5.2 yards per carry and leads the team in carries and rush yards. Moss has been a major asset in the red zone with a team-high three rush TDs.

Running backs: Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams

Gordon, a seventh-year pro, is averaging 4.7 rush yards per carry, more than half a yard more than his career per carry mark. He fits the downhill running style Vic Fangio wants, but the offense is also getting a boost from Williams. The rookie is getting better each week as he adjusts to the speed and physicality of the game. With star receivers in and out of the lineup due to injury, this RB duo is essential to Teddy Bridgewater and the Broncos’ offensive success. The Broncos currently rank 12th in the league in rushing, and I won’t be surprised to see this unit produce at an even higher level as Williams, whom I really liked coming out of North Carolina, gets more comfortable. 

Top 15 running backs

Former NFL rushing leader and NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew will survey all running backs and rank his top 15 each week of the 2021 season. His rankings are based on this season’s efforts alone. Here is MJD’s list heading into Week 6.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week’s rankings.

2021 stats: 5 games | 142 att | 640 rush yds | 4.51 ypc | 7 rush TD | 14 rec | 125 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles

Henry has career highs in carries, rush yards and rush TDs through the first five weeks of a season. The production we’re seeing from him year over year is something special. He’ll have a major test Monday night against Sean McDermott’s No. 1 overall defense.

2021 stats: 5 games | 90 att | 523 rush yds | 5.81 ypc | 4 rush TD | 5 rec | 35 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble

Chubb is already halfway to his 2021 rushing yards total. With the fifth-year veteran averaging 104.6 rush yards per game, it’s no wonder the Browns feature the NFL’s best run offense.

2021 stats: 5 games | 85 att | 452 rush yds | 5.32 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 9 rec | 55 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles

With last week’s outing against the Giants, Zeke has strung together back-to-back 100-yard rushing games for the first time since Weeks 6-9 of 2019. This is the consistency Dallas has been looking for in its run game.

2021 stats: 5 games | 94 att | 368 rush yds | 3.91 ypc | 1 rush TD | 15 rec | 113 rec yds | 3 rec TDs | 0 fumbles

After having zero targets in Week 4, Kamara was more involved in the passing game in the Saints’ victory over Washington. He tied for a team-high eight targets and had a team-high five receptions for 51 yards and one receiving TD. Sean Payton must continue to lean on his most dynamic player after the team’s Week 6 bye.

2021 stats: 5 games | 70 att | 309 rush yds | 4.41 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 17 rec | 132 rec yds | 3 rec TD | 1 fumble

Jones is finding his stride as we near midseason. He logged a season-high 103 rush yards in last weekend’s thriller vs. the Bengals, and has posted at least 90 scrimmage yards in each of the last four games. Even with stars Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams in the mix, Packers are at their very best when Jones is heavily involved and producing.

2021 stats: 5 games | 67 att | 349 rush yds | 5.21 ypc | 4 rush TD | 23 rec | 194 rec yds | 3 rec TD | 0 fumbles

Ekeler is on a tear this season and is one of the reasons the Chargers sit at the top of the AFC West. Having recorded at least 100 scrimmage yards in every game since Week 2, Ekeler tied his career high with three scrimmage touchdowns (two rush, one receiving) in Sunday’s win over the Browns. He’s the perfect asset for rising superstar Justin Herbert.

2021 stats: 5 games | 93 att | 386 rush yds | 4.15 ypc | 3 rush TD | 8 rec | 31 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles

Battling an ankle injury, Mixon shared the load with Samaje Perine against the Packers but came through late in regulation with an 8-yard TD run that, with a successful two-point conversion, sent the game to overtime. Mixon’s been limited in practice this week but hopefully his injury won’t sideline him for Sunday’s game against a hungry Detroit team.

2021 stats: 5 games | 73 att | 327 rush yds | 4.48 ypc | 2 rush TD | 14 rec | 197 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles 

Taylor had an incredible performance Monday night, and it should’ve been enough for the Colts to notch their second win of the season. The second-year back had a career-high 116 receiving yards thanks to this dynamic, 76-yard catch-and-run TD in the first quarter. I love to see young backs flash different part of their skill sets, and the passing game is an area in which Frank Reich might want to utilize him more.

2021 stats: 5 games | 55 att | 295 rush yds | 5.36 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 17 rec | 149 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles

The Browns scored a season-high 42 points against the Chargers last weekend and Hunt accounted for two scores on the ground, including an 8-yard TD run in the fourth quarter that gave the Browns a late lead. Hunt’s five TD runs this season are tied for second-most entering Week 6. 

2021 stats: 5 games | 51 att | 325 rush yds | 6.37 ypc | 1 rush TD | 12 rec | 93 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles 

Pollard is steadily climbing the ranks after consistently showing out for Dallas each week. He leads all running backs in yards per carry (6.4) and routinely puts the Cowboys in favorable positions.

2021 stats: 5 games | 67 att | 387 rush yds | 5.78 ypc | 4 rush TD | 14 rec | 88 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles

Robinson was one of the best surprises to come out of the 2020 season, and he’s continued that momentum in Year 2. Last week against the Titans, he had a career-high 149 rush yards and is tied for the fourth-most rush yards in the league after five weeks.

2021 stats: 5 games | 56 att | 251 rush yds | 4.48 ypc | 1 rush TD | 19 rec | 167 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles

Fournette has found his place in Tampa’s offense, averaging just under 5.0 yards per carry over the last two games. This is the type of production that will help the Bucs’ offense better control the clock and keep their injury-riddled defense from wearing down late in games.

2021 stats: 5 games | 65 att | 258 rush yds | 3.97 ypc | 0 rush TD | 15 rec | 120 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 1 fumble

Mattison filled the void in the backfield left by Dalvin Cook during Weeks 3 and 5. As the starter, he registered 171 scrimmage yards in Minnesota’s Week 3 win over Seattle and 153 scrimmage yards and a receiving TD in Sunday’s win over Detroit. Cook is hard to replace, but Mattison has risen to the occasion.

2021 stats: 5 games | 78 att | 307 rush yds | 3.94 ypc | 2 rush TD | 28 rec | 198 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles

The Steelers finally wised up and leaned on their rookie running back, and it resulted in a much-needed W. Against the Broncos, Harris logged a career-high 23 carries for 122 rush yards and a TD after averaging 13.8 carries and 46.3 rush yards per game in Weeks 1-4. This is the formula that will keep Pittsburgh trending upward after a rough start.

2021 stats: 5 games | 49 att | 270 rush yds | 5.51 ypc | 0 rush TD | 23 rec | 159 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles

Edmonds is hanging on by a thread in the No. 15 spot as James Conner is picking up a lot of steam as midseason approaches. Conner has scored five rush TDs over the last three games. Edmonds has to do something more to maintain his place as the starter and on my list.

DROPPED OUT: David Montgomery, Bears (previously No. 8); Dalvin Cook, Vikings (No. 9); Saquon Barkley, Giants (No. 10); Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs (No. 13)

Follow Maurice Jones-Drew on Twitter.

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