Don’t look now, but the best running attack in the AFC North may belong to the Cleveland Browns.
To put some perspective on the yards per game stats, Chris Johnson of Tennessee averaged 125.4 yards a game for the season.
Seasonally, of course, Harrison did not reach those lofty numbers and only averaged a slender 61.6 yards a game.
The big difference is that the Browns were not featuring Harrison until the end of the season, more specifically the last three games.
The first 14 weeks of the season Harrison only averaged 6.2 carries a game.
The one game they gave it to Harrison 29 times was against the Cincinnati Bengals, which he rewarded the Browns with a 121 yard effort.
Compare that number to Johnson's 19.4 carry a game average in the first 14 games and the reason for the disparity in yards becomes more evident.
Another fact that escapes some experts is that teams knew the Browns were not going to pass and stacked against the run, and the Browns still were able to run on them.
Harrison and Josh Cribbs carried the weight of the running attack last year led by underrated Lawrence Vickers.
This year there are more guests stars on the Harrison show.
The Browns did something smart this off season that went unnoticed by taking a strength and making it stronger. Additions of veteran Peyton Hillis give the Browns a smashing fullback/tailback with soft hands, while rookie Montario Hardesty has power to run between the tackles but also a second gear to get to the next level of a defense.
Hardesty could prove to be Jamal Lewis 2.0, while James Davis is frothing at the mouth to prove himself coming off a season ending injury.
Chris Jennings flashed potential last year as well, but may find playing time hard to come by in a crowded backfield.
The Browns fans pulled their hair out when Eric Mangini selected Alex Mack with his first pick a year ago, but now that once “boring” pick will have the Browns reaping rewards in 2010.
Mack was baptized by fire in a predominantly 3-4 defensive-schemed AFC North.
As the season wore on, Mack improved with the line calls and with the addition of a more experienced quarterback under center can only improve.
The offensive line shuffled personnel on the right side. The 2010 Browns have added Tony Pashos who should solidify that side, and added depth with rookie Shaun Lauvao who should compete for playing time. Both players are much nastier than their predecessors at the position and can help grind when the weather gets hairy by the lake.
Adding to the running game is the return of the passing game.
Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn were no threat to a defense and offensive coordinators knew it.
Although Seneca Wallace, Jake Delhomme and Colt McCoy don’t send chills up coordinators spines, they are all more viable options at the position.
Now play-action passes mean something in the Browns offense.
Wallace has proved a capable starter in his guest appearances in Seattle. Wallace in the backfield with Cribbs adds a dimension to the wildcat most teams cannot duplicate.
Regardless of whether he earns a starting spot or not, there will undoubtedly be packages utilizing his arm and feet that will concern defenses.
When both Cribbs and Wallace are in the backfield defenses will not know who to key on.
Delhomme will add stability and credibility to the position regardless of his horrible interception-riddled season last year. Although he is working with young receivers his knowledge and leadership could be what the doctor ordered for a young receiving core.
Unlike Quinn or Anderson, Delhomme will be more trusted to check down out of a pass into a running play and vice versa.
He has been there and done it before, and other than Ben Roethlisberger, he is the only quarterback in the division who has gotten his team to a Super Bowl. If the Browns can move from the 32nd ranked passing game to the mid 20’s it can only improve an already competitive running attack.
On paper the Browns are like bad leftovers in the fridge, not to appetizing and you have already tasted it before. But after heating and stirring, we may find there have been more spices added to the meal to make it more digestible.
The Browns are slowly turning themselves into what the Steelers used to be, a team that relies heavy on the run to grind out victories.
In a division where Carson Palmer is coming off one of his worst seasons, Roethlisberger is suspended for four to six games, and the Raven’s defense is rapidly aging like Dorian Gray’s picture, don’t count the Browns out so soon.
This can be a much better season than some experts believe in Dawg Pound City.