Why Hasn't the Browns' Running Game Gained Traction Yet?
When Norv Turner was hired as the Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator, bells of jubilation tolled in Cleveland. Not only would Turner utilize quarterback Brandon Weeden’s arm and stretch the field, but he would also feed running back Trent Richardson the ball and allow him to dictate game speed and tempo.
At least, that was the thought.
Through two games, the Browns are 29th in NFL with just 112 rushing yards. Richardson, who received just 13 carries in Week 1, has rushed for only 105 yards total.
So why isn’t the running game working?
Is Richardson being too hesitant in the backfield? Are the play calls flawed? Or perhaps, is the blocking wildly inconsistent with a third-string right guard and struggling right tackle?
Let’s take a look at three separate second-down run plays from the Browns' Week 2 loss at Baltimore.
Play 1: 2nd-and-6 on their own 48-yard line with 4:49 to go in the first quarter
Here the Browns are lined up in a 12 personnel package (one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers). On this play, the objective is for left guard John Greco to pull in front of Richardson and block the defensive end. Both right guard Oniel Cousins and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz will block their men towards the center, creating an alley to run just outside the right shoulder of Schwartz.
Tight end Gary Barnidge (far left) will also pull and act as a lead blocker for Richardson. This is an extremely standard run throughout the league.
As you can see, John Greco does a great job pulling and picking up two defenders to seal the outside. Mitchell Schwartz gets to the second level and finds a linebacker to block, while Oniel Cousins (circled) is already struggling to hold his block on the left side of the hole.
Barnidge is in position to lead Richardson through the hole and into the defensive secondary for a large gain.
Barnidge picks up the second defender that Greco cannot maintain, creating the right wall of the hole Richardson is supposed to run through. Schwartz has his linebacker contained sealing the left side,, but Oniel Cousins (circled) has been beaten.
Cousins’ defender has collapsed the intended hole and forced Richardson to bounce outside and look for yards on the perimeter.
The good news is that Travis Benjamin (far right) is now a lead blocker for Richardson and the run can still result in a significant gain. If Richardson can beat the defensive end with his athleticism, there is running room.
The end is no match for Richardson, who easily blows by him and has daylight to the outside. Unfortunately, Benjamin (circled) cannot hold his block. He falls down, allowing the defender to tackle Richardson before the play goes any further.
The play resulted in a four-yard gain despite Richardson being failed by blockers twice. Oniel Cousins was the weak link on the original hole, and Benjamin was no better to the outside.
While this play ended with a positive result, Richardson cannot make every play on his own and needs holes to run through to consistently produce.
Play 2: 2nd-and-7 on their own 7-yard line with 1:24 to go in the first quarter
The Browns are once again in a 12 personnel package, but this time they have their backs to the goal line. Instead of using a pulling guard, Norv Turner opts for a power running game where each man has to dominate the defender in front of him.
This time, the run will go to the left side. Left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack will both bully their defenders straight forward, while John Greco will go directly to the second level and take on a linebacker.
Richardson will follow Greco and then decide which way to cut the run depending on how his block sets up.
Mack and Thomas plow their defenders back off the line of scrimmage, and Greco squares up the linebacker in the second level.
Notice how both Mack and Thomas’ arms are inside their defenders' arms. Keeping their hand placement on the chest area allows them maximum leverage and the ability to steer the defender one way or the other.
Richardson follows his blocks and gains five yards on the play. This is a huge result close to their own goal line. The blocks were set up and executed perfectly, creating the type of power run play that should allow Richardson to thrive.
Play 3: 2nd-and-1 on their own 38-yard line with 4:38 to go in the third quarter
Once again the Browns are in a 12 personnel package, but this time they have tight end Jordan Cameron split off the line to the right. Barnidge has shifted into the backfield.
This play calls for the guard to pull in front of the run, but now it’s Oniel Cousins’ turn. He has to get out to the left side of the line as quickly as possible to pick up the rushing defensive end.
Joe Thomas and John Greco will both block their men towards the center, creating a seal to the inside of the run. Cousins’ block to the outside, along with Barnidge pulling in front as a lead blocker, are supposed to create the outside of the hole for Richardson.
Thomas and Greco instantly seal the inside of the hole. Barnidge will lead through the hole and pick up the linebacker, allowing Richardson to get into the defensive secondary.
There is already a problem on this play, however. Cousins is late and attempting to pick up his block way too far in the backfield. If he can get a solid hit on Suggs, the play can still be successful. But he has already missed his original mark.
As you can see, Cousins completely whiffs on his block and Terrell Suggs is able to hit Richardson as he is handed the ball. Every other block is picked up perfectly, but Cousins being late to his spot prevented Richardson from getting into his hole.
Once again Cousins was the weak link on this play.
He lacks the foot speed to pull outside and take on an elite edge-rusher like Suggs. This play resulted in a three-yard loss, and it was completely because of a missed blocking assignment.
While there were a few instances where Richardson missed his hole or did not trust the line, most of the failed running plays were because of missed blocks. These blown assignments are usually only visible on the end-zone version of coach’s film.
These screenshots illustrate just how imperative it is for Shawn Lauvao to get back healthy. He is more athletic than Cousins and much better at maintaining blocks all the way through the whistle. They also illustrate how the Browns have tried to compensate for their lack of a true fullback. Without a true lead blocker, Turner must use pulling guards and tight ends to pick up extra defenders.
Until the Browns sort out their offensive line situation, Richardson will continue to look ineffective in this offense.
All screenshots courtesy of NFL.com Game Rewind coach's film.
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