In the Cleveland Browns' Week 1, 23-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins, the team converted just one of its 14 third downs. Quarterback Brandon Weeden threw three interceptions in the first half, the team scored just one touchdown, and Weeden's targets dropped four of his passes.
However, the Browns opted not to run the ball very much, even when they entered the second half of the game with a one-point lead. Trent Richardson was the only Browns running back to touch the ball on Sunday, with 13 carries for 47 yards and only five rushes in the second half.
Cleveland's refusal to run directly led to its loss. It should serve as a warning. Richardson needs to get more carries if the Browns offense is to have an improved season.
According to Pro-Football-Reference, Richardson had no third-down carries in Sunday's loss—however, it was for good reason. Only two of Cleveland's third downs needed yardage that could have come from the run—a first-quarter 3rd-and-2 and a second-quarter 3rd-and-4.
Richardson had only three rushes on Cleveland's 24 second downs—one a five-yard gain, one a loss of three yards and one for no gain. Again, the distances in the majority of the Browns' second downs were long; half of the second downs had seven to 10 yards to go. But this isn't third down. The Browns could have still run the ball more on these 2nd-and-longs to try to get to 3rd-and-shorts, or even to convert.
Instead, the Browns chose to have Richardson to do most of his running on first downs, with 10 of his 13 carries coming on 1st-and-10. If they were comfortable doing this (relatively speaking, considering Richardson's overall low number of carries in the game), then why not hand the ball off more to Richardson on second down?
Further, 30 of Weeden's 59 dropbacks were pressured by the Miami defense, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Weeden was sacked six times and hit and hurried on more than two-dozen other plays, with Oniel Cousins at right guard and Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle particularly struggling in pass protection. More running would have taken the heat off of Weeden.
Richardson was the Browns' first-round draft pick in 2012, taken third overall. He's the crown jewel of their offense, the player they need to build their identity around.
His offensive coordinator is Norv Turner, who has made his career on finding and heavily relying on some of the NFL's best modern running backs. His head coach is Rob Chudzinski, who spent time as the Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator, working with a mobile quarterback (Cam Newton) and two expensive feature backs (DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart).
There is no reason for Richardson to get just 13 carries in a game, especially a close one. The coaching staff should be basing its offense on how much it can use Richardson, not on how many times it can ask Weeden to throw the football (53 attempts), especially when Weeden is seeing as much pressure as he did on Sunday.
At the very least, the goal should be balance, and that's certainly not what happened in this game. Weeden and the passing offense were a liability for Cleveland this week, but Chudzinski and Turner stubbornly pressed on asking the quarterback to throw the ball, despite the few favors being paid him by half of his offensive line and by some of his receivers.
While there are instances in which Richardson won't and shouldn't get many carries—for example, if the Browns are down by two or three scores and need to quickly catch up—the Miami game wasn't one of them.
The Browns were mistaken by limiting Richardson to 13 carries on Sunday, and it's a mistake they cannot repeat.