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How the Browns Can Bolster Their Running Game to Augment Inconsistent Offense

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How the Browns Can Bolster Their Running Game to Augment Inconsistent Offense
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

How can the Cleveland Browns bolster their running game to augment an inconsistent offense?

Let's be blunt, the passing "attack" of quarterback Brandon Weeden was going nowhere fast. ESPN.com's Pat McManamon reported on Wednesday that backup Jason Campbell will be under center against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, and that surely won't excite anyone either.

Rushing the football is this team's only hope of generating any kind of movement down the field. 

Weeden is ranked 32nd in the NFL in completion percentage (52.8) and sits in 30th place with a dismal 66.5 QB rating. The world only saw a brief glimpse of Campbell at the very end of Cleveland's Week 2 defeat to Baltimore and that wasn't pretty.

Since the Trent Richardson trade, Cleveland has cobbled together a run-by-committee strategy featuring Willis McGahee, Chris Ogbonnaya and the now-released Bobby Rainey.

/Getty Images
Willis McGahee

 

End-arounds by Travis Benjamin and Josh Gordon as well as the odd Wildcat attempt from MarQueis Gray have also been included.

24-year-old Fozzy Whittaker, formerly of the San Diego Chargers, is an interesting addition to the mix.

The Houston, TX, native provided a glimmer of effectiveness in a very small sample size by returning kicks and running previously in San Diego and for Cleveland last Sunday in the loss to Green Bay.

A 56-yard kickoff return late in the Packers contest along with a run of seven yards and a pair of receptions make the durable, 5'10", 202-pound back a potentially key piece in a ground game void of stars.

Campbell is a giant question mark, since his 2013 numbers account for just one completion on four attempts for six yards.

That brings everything back to the importance of pounding the football this weekend in Kansas City.

Head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have proven this season that they are not afraid to get creative or take chances in an effort to generate points.

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The duo must focus that energy on a variety of packages to hand the ball off and limit decision-making situations for Cleveland's new starting quarterback.

Averaging 86.3 rushing yards (23rd in the league) through seven games is a respectable number if it is accompanied by a good-to-great passing complement.

Unfortunately for the Browns, they do not posses that.

There may be an opportunity for the club, as it prepares to face an undefeated Chiefs team that allows 109.9 rushing yards per game (ranked 20th).

Cleveland better hope to demonstrate some ground control because Kansas City has given up the third-fewest passing yards per game in the league through seven weeks of the NFL schedule.

The key for the orange helmets is to avoid rushing the football up the middle as much as possible. Nose tackle Dontari Poe is a 346-pound beast that combines agility with the ability to clog up any openings.

Excluding trick plays, the linemen must work particularly hard to hold the edge and create lanes to give the running backs some space to work with.

Taking advantage of an overaggressive pass rush (35.0 sacks) by running early and often can potentially exploit the Chiefs' ferocious front seven.

Chipping away on the ground through the first two quarters would back off the blitz and eventually allow Campbell some extra seconds to find receivers.

These do not need to be huge running plays, but a steady diet of three or four yards per carry should do the trick. That's enough to keep the opposing defense honest and a realistic goal if those in the backfield are given the rock consistently.

Taking away his first appearance after returning from major knee surgery, McGahee has averaged 3.27 yards per carry in a Browns uniform. Versus Detroit and Green Bay, he was at 3.7 and 3.5 YPC, respectively.

When not blocking or being a main checkdown option, Ogbonnaya can be a solid contributor taking handoffs

/Getty Images
Chris Ogbonnaya

In 2011, his first season with the club, Ogbonnaya rumbled for 90 and 115 yards in consecutive games while filling in for an injured Peyton Hillis. Since November 20 of that year, he hasn't been given the opportunity to carry the ball on more than five occasions over a four-quarter period.

Yes, he's reliable at picking up the blitz, but maybe there's some magic left in those 27-year-old legs. Though it's an inconsistent body of work, Ogbonnaya's career per-carry average sits at 4.6 yards.

Coach Chudzinski told reporters in a press conference (h/t Ohio.com) on Wednesday that Whittaker would be returning kickoffs on Sunday. That could suggest that he'll be kept fresh for those duties and not utilized as much lining up behind Campbell.

If planned properly, not owning one primary running back is something that could work in the Browns' favor.

Rolling with a two-RB formation and rotating handoffs may be enough to keep the Chiefs guessing and breathe life into a dead offense.

Split 25 carries between McGahee and Ogbonnaya, and roughly five more between Whittaker and Benjamin.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Browns running back Fozzy Whittaker (center)

According to Team Rankings, six teams have averaged more than 30 rushes per game in 2013. Cleveland sits at 24th in that category.

The change in ball distribution can only help the passing game as the opposition's defense realizes that it must collectively move closer to the line of scrimmage.

This idea succeeds via a variety of rushing plays and carriers that are called upon consistently from the opening series. Even if early results are not seen, stick with it.

The alternative is giving up and going to the air, which leaves the offense in the hands of a backup QB and unreliable receivers.

 

Andy McNamara is an international sports broadcaster and journalist.

Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyMc81

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