A lot of Browns fans are calling for the team to use one of its second round picks on a running back. Most of this belief comes from looking at Jamal Lewis’ stats last year, and deciding that he needs to be replaced.
While I recognize the steep decline in production of NFL running backs when they reach 30 (Jamal does in August of this year), I think his lack of production has less to do with his performance, and more to do with these four factors:
1) The offensive line really struggled last year
Shaffer had an awful season last year, primarily in pass protection, but also in what was supposed to be his strength, run blocking. Tucker missed almost the entire season also had a huge impact (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Lewis’ best game was when Tucker played—Giants).
On top of that, continuity never really existed, which is crucial to offensive production (in ’07 only five games were missed by the Browns OL starts, four were Tucker’s suspension).
2) An incredibly difficult schedule last year
I understand that good running backs need to perform against good defenses, but the Browns played nine games against the top 12 rush defenses in the league, and two other games where a third or fourth-string QB was playing. It’s incredibly hard to put up numbers against great teams, or when teams know you’re not going to pass.
3) The running back rotation
Actually, it’s a lack of a running back rotation that caused Lewis’ decline. In 2007, Lewis carried the ball 75 percent of the time, in 2008, that number rose to 80 percent. I’m not guessing it would surprise you that Harrison only carried the ball five more times than Cribbs did last year.
The scariest aspect of this is that Mangini gave the ball to Thomas Jones almost 80 percent of the time last year. I’m hoping he’ll realize that the two back system works better, and will lessen Lewis’ load.
4) Repetitive Carries
This is something that I saw Crennel do that I didn’t see any other coach do even as close to as often. When Lewis had a long run (+10 yards), Crennel gave him the ball on the subsequent play.
Before you say NFL running backs should be able to run the ball multiple times in a row, I watched how the Vikings rotated Adrian Peterson in these situations. Want to know what happened very often when he broke a 10+ yard run...Chester Taylor came in the game.