The Cleveland Browns lost the season opener to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday 21-18, coming up just short in their comeback attempt. There were many factors that led to the loss, but one of the bigger problems that led to the loss was the lack of a run game for the Browns. Cleveland rushed for a total of 57 yards with a 2.3 yards per rush attempt average. It was not good. The Browns had 13 rushing attempts that went for less than four yards. This did not include quarterback scrambles, a backward pass, quarterback sneak plays or the two-point conversion play.
So, what was the cause of the struggling run game? Well, a wide variety of reasons are at fault for the Browns’ trouble running the ball. In this week’s Browns film room, I will categorize all 13 run plays that went under four yards and give my opinion on who was at fault on the failed run plays, showcasing one play in each category. So with that, let’s roll the tape!
Of the 13 rushing plays that were under four yards, the runner was at fault for five of those failed runs. This category lays the blame on the runner. The runner either took the wrong hole or lane, running himself into a trouble. The ball carrier read the blocking wrong and missed an opportunity to make a successful run. The blocking was solid enough on these plays that should have netted a positive run. Here is an example of a runner being at fault for a failed rush attempt.
On this play, the Browns come out in a shotgun with three receivers out wide, a tight end on the right end of the line and running back Matt Dayes lined up to the right of quarterback DeShone Kizer. Kizer hands off the ball to Dayes, who starts heading up the field through the middle of the offensive line. He is then faced with this situation.
The Browns offensive line created a lot of push against the Pittsburgh defense on this play. The line formed a huge hole to the right with no defender free to meet him in that lane. But, Dayes takes the wrong route and just plunges into the scrum of the line, leading to just a marginal three-yard gain. Had Dayes cut back to the right and into the open lane, he had a chance to reach the edge and possibly make a big run play. But, he missed the opportunity. The other four plays I laid blame on the runner for were: Crowell run for one yard in first quarter (11:40); Crowell loss of one yard in second quarter (12:28); Crowell run for one yard in second quarter (5:18); and Matt Dayes gain of three yards in second quarter (:41).
Offensive Line’s Fault
Tied with the runner in the blame game, the Browns offensive line also is at fault for five of those 13 runs of less than four yards. This means that the offensive line was beat at the point of attack by the Pittsburgh defense, causing the play to fail. In these five plays, one or multiple offensive linemen were to blame for the unsuccessful run. Here is an example of the offensive line being at fault.
In this play, the Browns are lined up in a single back set with three receivers out wide, a tight end motioning to the end of the left side of the line and running back Isaiah Crowell in the backfield. Crowell takes the stretch handoff, beginning his run going to the left edge. But, the play is blown up by the penetration of Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier. Left guard Joel Bitonio is at fault on this play. Bitonio is beat by Shazier, allowing the linebacker to slip into the backfield and cause Crowell to stretch out the run even more to the sideline. This ends up causing Crowell to run out of room and gain just one yard. Bitonio could not get in front of Shazier in time to stop him from getting to the backfield and blowing up the play. The other four plays I laid blame on the offensive line for were: Crowell loses nine yard in first quarter (14:24); Crowell gains two yards in first quarter (5:48); Crowell runs for two yards in first quarter (1:12); and Crowell gains two yards in third quarter (11:45).
Non-Offensive Line Blocker’s Fault
After the top two culprits, the blockers aiding the offensive linemen are at fault for two of these 13 rush attempts going for less than four yards. This includes tight ends, wide receivers or other running backs failing to do their blocking duty and causing the run play to fail. Here is an example of the non-offensive line blocker being at fault on a failed run.
In this play, the Browns line up in a shotgun formation with three receivers out wide, tight end Seth DeValve lined up to the right of Kizer and Crowell on Kizer’s left. The play is a handoff to Crowell. Crowell begins to go toward the middle, but sees a linebacker beginning the fill the hole, so he cuts to the left where the edge is open. But, the run fails when DeValve decides to run past his blocking assignment of Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt. DeValve lets Watt go free, which allows the Steeler linebacker get to Crowell for the tackle. Had DeValve blocked Watt, the run play could have been a huge gain because the blocking was setting up down field. The other play that can be blamed on a non-offensive linemen blocker is the one-yard run by Matt Dayes in the fourth quarter at the 4:54 mark.
Failed Blocking Alignment/Assignment
The last factor in the poor run game versus the Steelers was a play where there was a failed blocking alignment and assignment. Here is the play where the wrong alignment and assignment caused the play to fail.
In this play, the Browns line up in a shotgun with three receivers out wide, a tight end lined up on the right end of the line and Crowell to the right of Kizer. The play is a handoff to Crowell. Crowell receives the handoff and is immediately met in the hole by the blitzing Steelers safety. Crowell has nowhere to go and the run fails. First of all, Kizer did not see the blitzing safety creep up the field. Had Kizer seen the safety, he would have called it out for the offensive line and adjusted the blocking alignment. Second, the offensive line did not notice the safety either. So, left guard Bitonio pinched down and double-teamed the inside defender, allowing the safety to have a free lane to the backfield. It started with Kizer not reading the blitz and ended up being a breakdown in the blocking alignment and assignment.
Highlight of the Week
Joe Schobert was the highlight of Week 1. Versus the Steelers, he led the team in tackles with nine tackles. Schobert has really emerged and taken the middle linebacker job and run with it. He flew around the field on Sunday and showed that his best position is in the middle of the defense. He really makes the Browns linebacker corps one of the best and most talented units in the league.
Lowlight of the Week
The Browns punt protection was the lowlight of Week 1. The unit gave up a backbreaking punt block that was recovered for a touchdown. That touchdown ended up being the difference in the game. The unit looked shaky on a couple other punts. Punt protection is about each player knowing who everyone is supposed to block and each player doing their assignment. That failed on Sunday.