To this point in the 2012 season, Pat Shurmur and Brad Childress haven't had any consistent success running the ball, and unless they make a significant change in their overall philosophy, this unsettling trend will continue.
Through three games, rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden attempted 115 passes, completing just 65 of them. During the same stretch, Richardson only carried the ball 50 times.
That's a ratio that is going to fail more times than not, and Shurmur would be wise to make a change.
Here are a couple changes the Browns need to make to get the most out of Richardson's talents.
Feed the Beast
Running the ball successfully in the NFL isn't rocket science.
Pat Shurmur and Brad Childress are dedicated West-Coast disciples, and the godfather of this offense was Bill Walsh. He used to say that he liked to open up the run by passing the ball, and the San Francisco 49ers were successful using this strategy.
Unfortunately for the Browns, Greg Little isn't Jerry Rice, and Brandon Weeden isn't Joe Montana.
The best way to make this offense effective is to become a run-first team. Richardson will force teams to play with eight men in the box if he's the team's No. 1 option on offense, and that will make Weeden and the passing game much more effective in the long run.
Many of the best running backs in the league make their hay in the latter stages of games after they've been banging their heads against the wall for three quarters, softening up the defense.
Richardson needs to be getting at least 20 carries per game. He's a bruising back with tremendous power, and the more chances he gets to pound away, the better his chances will get to break off big runs.
Get Him Involved More in the Passing Game
One of Richardson's greatest assets is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
One of the weaknesses the Browns have in the passing game is that the offensive line struggles to protect Weeden.
The Browns need to marry these two aspects by getting Richardson more involved in the passing game. They can do so by putting Weeden in shotgun with Richardson by his side, using Richardson as a blocker with the option to sneak out of the backfield for the outlet—something Weeden could clearly use on many a passing play.
Furthermore, the Browns need to get Richardson involved more in the screen game. His ability to make defenders miss, combined with his strength and speed, make him a dangerous open-field runner who can break off massive chunks of yardage on any given play.
Change Things Up
The Browns' offensive playbook is about as predictable as it gets, and opposing defenses often seem to know what's coming before the ball is ever snapped.
NFL.com's Michael Lombardi delved into this fact last season in one of his columns:
Writing about Cleveland's offense leads me to a game I play every week at NFL Films. I sit in my office in Mt Laurel, N.J., put the Browns' attack on my screen and call a friend who was a coach in the league, but is now in between successes. I tell my friend the personnel group, the formation, where the ball is located on the field and what hash mark and describe the motion -- if there is any -- and ask him to tell me the exact play that will be run. He is correct about 95 percent of the time. No lie. The Browns are so integrated into the West Coast system that their predictability is becoming legendary around the league.
Things haven't changed for the better in 2012, and it's plain to anyone with a shred of football acumen that the Browns are a predictable team on offense.
It's not working.
Lining up and expecting to win every battle didn't work for Mike Singletary and the San Francisco 49ers, but once Jim Harbaugh showed up and started adding some wrinkles, the Niners' offense took off.
Childress and Shurmur need to start getting creative with their playcalling, or the Browns offense will continue to sputter and choke throughout the season.
To this point in the young 2012 season, the Browns have made Weeden the centerpiece of their offense. That must change immediately, or this team will continue to struggle to move the ball and score points.
With his ability to make big plays in the running game and in the passing game, Richardson should be the focal point of the offense. After all, the team did trade three late-round draft picks just to move up one spot in the 2012 NFL draft to take this young man.
Shurmur and Childress need to make the most of the team's investment by getting Richardson more involved. Right now, they're wasting his talents.
And, for heaven's sake, let's see some creativity out there on Sundays.
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