One of the big expectations for the Cleveland Browns offense in 2015 was that it would see a renaissance in the run game. With the return of center Alex Mack from his 2014 leg fracture and the installation of a ball-control offense created by coordinator John DeFilippo, it seemed like running the ball early, often and well would have been a high priority.
Instead, it looks like the Browns' offensive plans are revolving more around the passing game than previously thought. This is more of a dink-and-dunk-style passing offense, one that relies on quarterback Josh McCown throwing screen passes and underneath throws into the flat, with the occasional deep pass thrown in.
But in order to make this passing offense hum, the Browns need more production out of their run game. And through three preseason games, we haven't seen that happen often enough. While the preseason is not a time for teams to tip their true, regular-season plans in any phase of the game, it is surprising that the Browns have struggled to get their run game going on a consistent basis this summer.
|Browns Preseason Rushing Stats, Through 3 Games|
|via Yahoo! Sports|
Through three games, the Browns have rushed a collective 78 times for 253 yards and have just two rushing touchdowns, scored by quarterbacks Johnny Manziel and Thaddeus Lewis. They have a 3.2 yards-per-carry average through the postseason and have only surpassed 100 rushing yards in a game just once—on Saturday, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in which the Browns rushed 34 times for 119 yards in order to protect and maintain their lead.
Most concerning, though, are the Browns' first-half rushing stats during the preseason, as that is when the starters are getting the most playing time. In the first halves, the Browns have totaled only 120 rushing yards (28, 46 and 46 yards, respectively), which averages out to just 40 yards per game.
And until the Tampa Bay game, the vast majority of the Browns' rushing yardage has come on just a handful of plays; of the 89 rushing yards they totaled against the Buffalo Bills, 40 came on three runs, and of the 45 they totaled against Washington, 12 were earned on Manziel's touchdown scramble.
The Browns, of course, were running a limited playbook through these three games and weren't particularly planning against their opponent as they would in the regular season. We don't really know what Mike Pettine and DeFilippo wanted to see in those three games that may have come at the expense of running the ball.
And there's also the case of Duke Johnson to consider. Johnson had missed the Browns' first two preseason games while he nursed a hamstring injury, then left in Saturday's game against Tampa Bay with a concussion after just one rush of four yards and one two-yard reception.
Not having Johnson available has likely shrunk the Browns' run-game options, given that Johnson looked to factor heavily into their plans alongside Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell. We haven't really been able to see the full scope of the Browns' 2015 run game without Johnson on the field. Getting him back healthy could change this production significantly.
But it is clear that the Browns will need to run the ball better in the regular season in order to get their passing game to work at its highest efficiency. The run game cannot simply grind to a near halt because Johnson is on the sideline. It's crucial that the Browns do not ask McCown to do too much, to have to carry this offense with his arm.
Here's to hoping that the Browns' low preseason rushing totals are a coincidental byproduct of the coaches looking at other areas of the offense, rather than a sign of things to come. There's no reason to be overly worried just yet, but it's something to keep note of; should it continue into the regular season, then it could become a problem. The Browns should, at the very least, have offensive balance as a goal for this team this year.