Like every team does, the Cleveland Browns evaluated themselves during their bye week. Hopefully after their evaluation they made it a point of emphasis to find a way to run the ball better. Through their first nine games of the season, they rushed the ball just 200 times. That is tied for 28th in the NFL.
The Browns are tied for 26th in the league in yards per carry and have just one rushing touchdown which ranks dead last.
Something has to change and it certainly won’t be personnel. The Browns have accepted the fact that Willis McGahee is their running back for the rest of the season. Since he is obviously unfit to carry a running game, they need to be creative in how they produce yards via the run.
Running back Chris Ogbonnaya should be fully recovered from his rib injury which he has battled over the last month. This will give the run game a small boost.
But where can the Browns generate more yardage? The answer is with their brains.
Creativity and execution will be key over the final seven games if they want to conjure up some rushing yards. If they cannot, however, they can kiss any shot at the playoffs goodbye. Running the ball keeps defenses honest and quarterbacks healthy. The Browns certainly cannot afford another injury at quarterback.
In this week’s film breakdown, we look at three plays from the first half of the season that the Browns need to utilize more often and expand upon to help supplement the run game.
Play 1: Week 3 against the Minnesota Vikings
This was wide receiver Josh Gordon’s first game back from suspension. The Browns are in a 12 personnel package (one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers), and Gordon is lined up wide left.
This is a first-down play, and the Browns are showing a rushing formation. The Vikings have seven defenders in the box and three more creeping closer to the line of scrimmage.
Once the ball is snapped, the down back Gary Barnidge will block ahead of Gordon, and the up back Bobby Rainey will seal behind the run.
Right guard Oniel Cousins will also seal the back side of the run while wide receiver Greg Little will block in front of the run.
The first wave of blocks is perfect, and Gordon has a seal to the outside as well as two lead blockers to help downfield.
Barnidge picks up the final block in the first wave, and this allows Gordon to get to the sideline. He now has just one defender to beat with a lineman out in front of him to help lead the way.
This is a simple jet sweep play out of a running formation. Despite gaining 22 yards on this play and him averaging 11 yards per carry this season, the Browns have handed the ball off to Gordon just three times. He is a weapon no matter where he touches the ball and should be averaging at least one carry per game to help the running backs.
Play 2: Week 6 against the Detroit Lions
Here is another version of the play we just examined, but this time the Browns are lined up in a passing formation. They are in an 11 personnel package (one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers), and this keeps the Lions from overloading the box.
This will be a play-action end around. So after the quarterback fakes the handoff to the running back, he will then hand the ball off to wide receiver Travis Benjamin running the other way.
Both wide receivers lined up wide left will serve as lead blockers for Benjamin.
After the snap, the top of the defense is sucked in by the fake handoff. Greg Little does a great job of blocking the defensive end behind the run allowing Benjamin running room to the outside.
He now has Josh Gordon and center Alex Mack as lead blockers.
All blocks have been sealed and Benjamin has a clear lane to the sideline with one blocker ahead of him.
This play was executed perfectly. The seal to the outside allowed Benjamin to use his speed and gain 45 yards on this run.
While the Browns do not have Benjamin for the rest of the season, there are still other candidates to run this play. Armanti Edwards, who the Browns just signed two weeks ago, would be a perfect person to run this play. He has kick-return experience, and that is essentially what this play is designed as.
You cannot use this play as frequently, but seeing it mixed in every few weeks would not hurt.
Play 3: Week 6 against the Detroit Lions
The Browns have used the Wildcat formation quite a few times this season. Tight end MarQueis Gray is the perfect player to run the formation because he had experience as a quarterback in college.
In this formation he has two running backs in the backfield with him. Both backs will cross in front of him as the ball is snapped, and this will become a read-option play. Gray will decide whether he hands the ball off or runs it himself depending on how the linebackers and defensive ends attack the line of scrimmage.
Also, look how the Lions have nine players in the box against this formation. They are expecting a run the whole way.
Despite loading the box with defenders, the fake handoff sucks both defensive ends far enough downfield that Gray now has room to run straight up the middle. This is a perfect scenario as the Browns have a blocker for every defender in front of the run.
Gray is able to make one move and get into the secondary where he has just the safety to beat. The safety was pulled to the outside because he bit on the fake handoff to the running back. This allowed Gray an extra five yards before he and the safety met.
This simple Wildcat formation yielded a 10-yard yard gain. The Lions were expecting the run but offensive coordinator Norv Turner mixed in the misdirection of the read-option and gave Gray the room needed to move the ball down field. The Browns should consider giving Gray three carries per game from the Wildcat formation.
Here are three examples of how the Browns can be more creative in the run game. Not all examples would actually be running plays, however. Bubble screens, middle screens and shovel passes can also help loosen up a defense and act as extended handoffs.
No matter how they do it, the Browns need to get their carries per game up around 26 or Jason Campbell will be killed over the final seven games. No matter how good the line is blocking, no quarterback can survive every defense pass rushing on every play because they do not respect the run.
It is up to the coaching staff to fix this issue because they definitely do not have the talent in their running back room to alleviate it.
Game-film screenshot is courtesy of NFL Game Rewind (subscription required).