During the 2020 season, the Browns wowed the football world with their famous Two-Headed Monster rushing attack. Teams across the nation were green with envy. During the summer, the Browns gave Nick Chubb a big contract-extension. A few months later, after Odell Beckham, Jr. forced his way out of Cleveland, the Browns extended guards Wyatt Teller and Joel Bitonio. It was as if the team was saying: “We don’t need no stinkn’ OBJ. We’re a running team. And then…
For some reason, the Browns dialed down their rushing attack, mid-season. Simultaneously, other teams fielded their own Two-Head Monsters, and began to run the ball more. For example, there is only one team that has run the ball more than 50% of the time this year: the Philadelphia Eagles. However, during the last three weeks, there were five teams that have done so, led by the Colts at 64.5%. As of this writing, Nick Chubb trails the Colts’ Jonathan Taylor by 483 yards.
After triggering a smash-mouth football revival, the Browns have switched back to being a passing team.
During the first half of the season (the first 8 games) the Browns ran the ball 51% of the time. However, during the second half of the season (the last 7 games) the Browns have slashed that share to 44.4%. Below is a chart showing the evolution of this metric:
Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Colts have done just the opposite: from running the ball 43.5% of the time during the first half of the season, they have gunned that up to 56% here in the second half. Here is their chart:
As you may have noticed, the Colts have been hot as a pistol since leaning into their running game, winning 6 out of their last 7 games.
Not too shabby.
Why can’t the Browns do that?
Well, they can; it’s just that they don’t seem to want to. On Monday, their official podcast, Cleveland Browns Daily, emphatically “proved” that it was completely impossible for the Browns to run the ball more. They even had Joe Thomas on to explain why it couldn’t be done.
Pretty strange if you asked me.
The Browns were once the league’s premier rushing team, but now are content to be mediocre. Over the last three weeks, the Browns remain firmly perched at the #17 position of the “Rushing Play Percentage” metric. Yes, Kareem Hunt has been injured, but D’Ernest Johnson has picked up the baton and is averaging 5.7 YPC. He is also averaging 5.3 YPC against stacked fronts!
I have been harping on this for weeks now, and I have been right. Just look at what happened in the Green Bay game. The Packers were weak against the run, and the Browns ground-game slapped them silly. What would have happened if the Browns had run the ball 10 more times, and passed 10 fewer times? I don’t know, but that would have been 10 fewer chances of an interception, right?
On Monday, the Browns face the Steelers who are just as bad at ground defense as the Packers are. For the season, the Steelers are tied with the Packers in last place, allowing 4.8 YPC in the “Opponent Yards per Rush Attempt” metric. The Steelers have actually done worse recently, slipping to 5.0 YPC over the last three games.
During the Steelers loss to the Vikings on December 9th, Dalvin Cook ran for 205 yards on 27 carries for 7.6 YPC. Can the Browns smash the Steelers? Hell, yeah. So, here’s my game plan: 25 carries for Chubb, 15 for Kareem, and 10 for D’Ernest Johnson. That will yield 300 yards and, let’s say, 3 touchdowns. Don’t laugh; the Colts ran the ball 48 times versus the Texans on December 5th and won 31-0. This plan will also cut down on interceptions by simply slashing the number of passing plays down to a dozen or so, the bulk of which would ideally be screen passes to the running backs.
If the Bengals win on Sunday, this will all be moot. But if they lose, then the Browns need to do something that is guaranteed to beat the Steelers. And that is, hit ’em where they are soft: on the ground!
Note: The numbers cited above do not include plays where the QB was sacked.
Note: Has Baker Mayfield tarnished his brand by insisting on playing with a demolished left shoulder? Yes.
Note: The cheating and crooked refereeing at Lambeau Field was reminiscent of the Browns playoff game with the Chiefs last year. The Packers held Donovan-Peoples Jones all day, and not a single pass-interference call was made. Shameful, but continuing to throw the ball to DPJ and praying for a DPI call just was not the way to handle it.
Note: My theory is still that HC Stefanski is desperately trying to put up points, so don’t be surprised if he has another passing game-plan on Monday night. Think about it: the Browns’ defensive coordinator is doing a great job, while the teams’ offensive coordinator can’t put points on the board. It’s the defense that’s keeping the team in games, and the offense that is blowing it. And what do teams do when they are behind? Pass, pass, pass. Right? So, the Browns have deprecated the running game because they are desperately trying to throw their way into some quick points – a strategy that is clearly not working.
Note: Overall, the Browns did a fantastic job versus the Raiders and Packers with half their team in Omicron jail.
Note: Even after averaging 14.5 YPC versus the Packers, D’Ernest Johnson doesn’t get anywhere near the kudos he deserves. When Nick Chubb was gassed-out near the end of the game, he didn’t hesitate to take himself out because he knew the team was in good hands with DEJ. The Browns Three-Headed Monster needs to be unleashed! Like Browns’ safety John Johnson III tweeted “RUN THE DAMN BALL.” Note to Stefanski: stop fucking up! Just stop! Relax. Let your horses run.
Note: Even on an incredibly terrible passing day, Rashard Higgins had a stellar game versus the Packers. This has become a Browns tradition. First, somebody, probably nerd-dork Paul DePodesta, orders Hig benched for some bullshit reason like he is too slow, or doesn’t play special teams. And then, a couple of games later, Hig is the Browns top receiver because of his proven chemistry with Baker Mayfield. When will this nonsense stop?
Note: Did you see Tommy Togiai’s “Superman” tackle? If not, see the 7:33 mark of this video where Togiai (#93) flies like Superman and crushes Packer’s running back Aaron Jones (#33). Now that’s what I call pursuit! Wow!