Browns

Will Hue actually make the Browns run game the offense’s backbone?

“The run game has got to become our backbone,” Cleveland Browns Head Coach Hue Jackson stated following the team’s season opening loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. “It does. I am not running from that. We are going to run the football.”

So far, that statement has been far from the truth.

The Browns run game has struggled when given the opportunity, especially running back Isaiah Crowell. Crowell has returned to his 2015 form where he has missed holes and has looked indecisive. He has not shown the downhill, see hole, hit hole mentality of a year ago. Along with Crowell, the offensive line has not gelled yet and is experiencing some early season growing pains as they learn how to play together.1 On the early season, the Browns have rushed 46 times for 150 yards with an average of 3.3 yards per carry. It has been a struggle to get the running game going.

But, beyond the overall struggle of the run game, Hue Jackson’s lack of belief and usage of the run game has been far more egregious. The Browns have called 72 pass plays on the season, while only calling 46 run plays. That means Cleveland is running the ball just 38.9% of the time. The Browns have had the eighth most pass plays in the entire league. The unbalanced calls came despite never being more than two scores down at any point during the entire 2017 season.

How can the run game be the backbone of the offense when Jackson refuses to consistently call on them?

The lack of a consistent use of the run game affects the overall performance of the players in the run game. Crowell has been bad. He has looked slow to process and has missed the correct lane on numerous occasions. But, Jackson has not helped him get out of this funk. Jackson has in both games gone away from the run game. Crowell rushed seven times in the first half, but only received three carries in the second half. How can Crowell get into a good roll when the offensive play calling leaves him behind? Even in a two touchdown deficit, the Browns did not have to abandon the run with a whole half to go.

If Jackson does not like Crowell and how he is running, he has a great backup option in Duke Johnson. Johnson, in his limited carries, showed some impressive runs against the Ravens defense. He rushed just four times, but he was able to gain 21 yards. If Jackson does not want to wait for Crowell to wake up from his early season fog, Johnson is ready to go to fill the void. Give him a chance!

The other major factor in lack of run plays is the affect on the young quarterback. DeShone Kizer is a rookie quarterback who has so much development and learning to do. His greatest ally is a good running game. One that actually would be the backbone of the offense. Rather than relying on the run, Jackson has put an immense amount of the offensive pressure on the back of the rookie quarterback. He has given Kizer no help and completely thrown the Notre Dame alum to the wolves. Even worse, he has done so as the Browns faced two of the better defenses in the league: Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

Opposing defenses are not threatened by the Browns run game, so the defenses can use more of their resources to stop and confuse Kizer. Kizer’s ability to work out of play action should be a strength of the offense. He has the talent to move and throw on the move. But without a run game, the fake is less threatening leading the Browns to barely even use pass action plays. Through his play calling, Jackson is hurting Kizer rather than helping him.

So, will the Browns run game actually be the backbone of the offense as Jackson has professed? “We will run the football,” Jackson proclaimed on Monday following another lackluster run game performance on Sunday versus the Baltimore Ravens. But, his comments later and his history so far with the team have me questioning his sincerity.

Jackson responded in his latest Monday press conference if it can be conducive to winning if the running backs only receive 14 total carries. “Yes, it is if that is what it takes to win,” Jackson said. “If that is what gives you the best opportunity to win, when you are backed up because of penalties – third and long, second and long – and you look up and the score is different, sometimes that is the way games go.”

This recent quote scares me on his mentality of using the run game. He is saying that because of penalties and being at a deficit, the team had to go away from the run. That is not true. The Browns had a whole half to come back from a 14-point deficit. A two score game. That is plenty of time in the NFL, so there was no need to shy away from the run. In terms of penalties, many of the penalties came when the Browns were attempting pass plays on an early down. The offense also had longer downs to gain due in part to the troubles in the pass game, like sacks. The pass game was the culprit of these long downs, which circles back to the defenses not respecting the Browns on the ground.

History does not bode well for the Browns run game becoming the backbone. Last season with a young quarterback for most of the season, the Browns were a pass-heavy. The unit ran the ball just 350 times for 38.17% of the total plays. Hue Jackson can continue to say he wants the run game to be the backbone of the offense, but his actions are telling me they are empty rhetoric.

If the Browns are going to help nurture the development of Kizer and their young passing game, then Jackson must live by his words and make the run game the actual backbone of the offense. I’m not holding my breath.

  1. Note: It doesn’t help playing good, veteran, complicated defenses to begin the season. []

  • Sam Gold

    I feel like this is totally about to get better.

    https://media.giphy.com/media/sT7aTHXao9u9y/giphy.gif

  • Pat Leonard

    Well said, Joe. I get that you can’t expect the team to run the ball on third and long. Running on second and long might actually be a good tactic because most teams are going to expect a pass. But Hue needs to fix the run game and get it going. If Crow isn’t finding the holes, and it looks like he isn’t up to this point, then run Duke Johnson or Matt Dayes. Both have looked very good in limited carries. The offensive line is too good to be this bad at running the football. I expect a lot more out of this unit, and so should Hue.

  • 216 in 614

    Does not playing under center and all the shotgun have anything to do with it?

  • tigersbrowns2

    how about some short , high % passes on 1st down … then we’ll have the opposing defense on their heels a little bit more.

  • Skulb

    Well I’ve learned this much about football: a functional run game is achieved 100% through the blocking. A good blocking scheme should be able to easily block for 3+ yards pr play, which is on pace for a first down unless you’re unlucky. And then literally any back, as long as he has his health, can run the ball for the amount of yards being blocked for. Just hang onto the ball and don’t do anything particularly stupid. Other than this the back is for making the run game become good, even great. But first it must become functional from a blocking standpoint.

    In other words, if the run game is worse than functional it is probably not Crowell’s fault. It is much more likely that it is the fault of the blockers, including tight ends and receivers. Simply put, if a back gets hit in the backfield he isn’t even being given a chance to run. Sure, he can juke people and drag piles heroically back to the line of scrimmage. But that is not a worthwhile run game at all, and you obviously can’t stick with it until people learn to block as a team.

    I feel like I should share one of my many Redskins anecdotes here to demonstrate how this looks in practice. The Skins running backs are all painfully average, excepting Thompson on third downs. To make matters worse they were usually hit in the backfield on every run play last year, Kelley having the grit to refuse to run for negative yardage despite the appalling lack of blocking. And the main laughing stock in this ineptitude of a running game was always Jordan Reed, closely followed by the other two tight ends on the team. The man is a good receiving tight end but he blocks like my grandmother. And as a result there was usually always a free rusher getting a bead on Kelley and stuffing the play. Over and over again.

    Until last week. Magically Jordan Reed had a really good game of blocking this weekend. And as an immediate result of this one extra person in the blocking scheme, the Redskins backs ran riot on the Rams. Instead of being hit at -3 yards they made contact at +5 yards. And it was basically all because of Reed finally, God be praised, blocking people.

    Predictably, when asked about his good day, Kelley responded dismissively “Anyone could have run through those holes”. And he was right, although I love him for saying it anyway. It’s always the blocking, unless the back is a complete doofus.

  • mgbode

    The Browns have had some blocking issues, but Crowell is not without fault.

    https://twitter.com/jake_burns18/status/910204835370274816

  • Skulb

    I couldn’t get that to move for some reason. But from looking at the formation and what I think the play design might have been, his choice was obviously poor. Then again, even if he does go inside it looks like a five yard gain at most, But if he had had a lead to the outside, or the tackle shed his man to block the unblocked dude, you might have had a ten yard gain there, without even testing Crowell. Easy to say with the benefit of hindsight obviously. But it is really in the play design. This is an unadventurous, unambitious and depressing run play all around. It also doesn’t involve enough players for my taste. It is a timid run by design.

    I think my point was that it is easy to make a back look bad when the blocking isn’t optimal, whether it’s the scheme itself or the execution on the field that’s the problem. And it is also easy to make a back look good with the appropriate blocking schemes. When people say “committing to the run” this is what I imagine they mean. Not just mindlessly running dive plays over and over again, but developing a comprehensive plan for running the ball that involves all eleven guys, not just five or six. Pull some guards and tackles and go outside. Shift the line to move the defenders and then smack it up the first available hole. Most NFL teams are depressingly vanilla with the run game. It is used tactically to suck safeties up to the line so you can go deep more than it is used as a dynamic element in itself of the offense as a whole.
    And I think you see it here in the half assed blocking scheme. Why isn’t there a receiver cracking back on the unblocked defender? I mean, what does he think he’s going to achieve in this run play thirty yards down the field? A fullback leading the runner into the gap? A tight end faking a jam in the outside hole to turn it into a block, pick or crack? Why aren’t the guards shedding to get behind the defense for downfield blocking? Crowell has a better chance of outrunning the elephants in the middle than he does the unblocked linebacker.This is a play designed for five yards at most, and provided that everything goes exactly to plan. And it is easy to read for the defenders. This is the Ravens we’re talking about I mean. This will just not do against them on any day of the week.

    I do agree that Crowell could do things better in the present circumstances. I just think that this is how he looks when he is running in a half assed running attack. Take the blocking a little more seriously and watch him rumble I say! And the staff could do this in a weekend of planning and a week of practice. The question is: will they?

  • Skulb

    Oh, and while I’m here I think I should take the chance to quote the great Doc Walker:

    “Running the ball is a manhood issue. Passing is for the ballet dancers. Now it’s time for violence, chaos and frightened eyes staring back at you from behind facemasks. “What the hell just happened? Oh damn, here they come again!”. Your will against theirs, piles of buffalo, sweat and blood. It is time to kill”.

  • Harv

    Thank you, Joe. Now I’m not the only screaming into the void about this.

    I don’t believe Hue will run more as long as he’s calling plays. He appears fixated on perpetual pre-snap shifting and developing a QB who can quick-strike, cool offensive toys. Of course, misdirection and long passes work better with a running threat. Every coach since ’99 (except Shumer/Holmgrem) has promised an emphasis on the run, but except for the brief Pettine/Shanahan zone blocking success they can’t get themselves to go through the growing pains.

    We hear so many O-linemen say that the running game gets better with repetition. But Hue panics an when his team falls behind, and the line never gets a chance to wear an opponent down or at least make them hesitate on their way to the QB. I’m not sure Hue’s even conscious how little he runs late in games. Appears he just needs to try to take back that lead right now, despite lacking weapons to do so.

  • Sheldor

    Half of Crowell’s yards last year were runs over ten yards on draw plays against prevent defense. Pryor was 126th in yards after catch because prevent defenses let him catch the ball short of first downs.

    Minus the prevent defense runs, Crowell averaged an anemic 3.2 ypc. Teams won’t respect the passing game. Running the ball won’t work.

    Sashi John has spoken.

  • Sheldor

    Nope, a passing game establishes a running game. Otherwise, you are ALWAYS short on 3rd down and punting.

  • Sam Gold
  • JM85

    How about they hire an OC to actually call plays?

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