Where Did the Running Game Go?

By
Updated: September 22, 2017

Where, oh where did the running game go?
Where, oh where can it be?
The offense is relying on Kizer,
But that’s not where our rookie should be.

Now that I got that out of my system, let’s focus on the Cleveland Browns running game or the lack thereof. Isaiah Crowell is only averaging 2.6 yards a carry but with only 13.5 touches a game. The flow of the game does dictate the playing calling and the Browns have been playing from behind. It makes sense, but Hue Jackson hasn’t used him like anticipated. The front office spent money to build an offensive line and went with a rookie quarterback so emphasis on the run was supposed to be the bread and butter of this offense.

For two games now, Jackson has elected to put the ball in DeShone Kizer’s hands on early downs instead of Crowell. The first play of the Pittsburgh Steelers game was a one-yard run by Kizer. Kizer dropped back to pass on the first down on seven of the 11 possessions Cleveland had. Crowell only carried the ball 17 times in the game and just five times in the second half despite being down 14-7 at halftime. He did have two catches for 33 yards on the final possession and out-touched Duke Johnson 19-2, but it didn’t feel like they tried to get Crowell involved.

That definitely wasn’t the case in the Baltimore Ravens game. They did feed the Crow on the first possession though. He carried the ball twice for three yards before Kizer was flagged for delay of game, didn’t complete his next pass and the Browns were forced to punt. Crowell ran for nine then two yards for the first down on the next possession. They elected to pass on first down and it was complete to Randall Telfer for 20 yards. I’m not against mixing it up on first down, it throws the defense off and that’s probably why the Browns achieved such a big gain. My issue is that following that play, it was a two-yard pass to Kenny Britt followed by an incomplete pass followed by a false start followed by a sack-fumble which led to a Ravens touchdown.

Even on our third possession down by seven, what happened on first down? A 13-yard pass to Britt! Oh, wait! There was a flag on the play for offensive pass interference. Crowell ran the ball on the first and 20 play and resulted in a two-yard gain, but it was predictable, right? You can’t blame the short gain on him. However, the Browns steered away from him after that though. Isaiah had five carries in the first three possessions while finishing with just 10 the whole game and just three in the second half despite breaking off a 17-yard run in the third quarter. He out-touched Johnson who had four carries and three receptions (six targets though). The problem was that Crowell was only on the field for 45.1% of the offensive snaps compared to the 78.8% he played versus Pittsburgh.

The Ravens went up 14-0 midway through the second quarter, so once again that can dictate the play calling and Cleveland responded after the second touchdown by passing on four of the six plays and getting a score of their own to cut the deficit in half. Unfortunately, the Browns fell behind 21-7 by halftime and completely abandoned the run.

Their first possession of the third quarter is as follows: Pass, Pass, Pass (flag on defense), Pass, Run (Crow’s 17 yarder), Run, Pass, Pass, Field Goal. I’m baffled by the play calling. Even later, in a 24-10 game and after putting together a nice 68-yard drive early in the fourth quarter, the Browns still passed the ball. It was first and goal on the three-yard line. Kizer ended up scrambling for negative four yards. I was scratching my head, wondering if what I saw was real. Then the very next play was another pass that was intercepted in the end zone. Those are two opportunities that should have gone to Crowell, yet you give the rookie the ball. If you want to protect him and put him in a good position to be successful, then why didn’t they run the ball? Remember when the Seahawks decided to pass the ball in the Super Bowl? I’m not comparing the magnitude of the game (division rival though!) or saying that Crowell is the next Marshawn Lynch, but he could have scored from three yards out. Not to mention, it would have cut the lead to 24-17 with just under 12 minutes left.

It is just mind-boggling and I’m trying to understand. Crowell has increased his usage and production every year since Cleveland signed him as an undrafted free agent. Even in Hue Jackson’s first season as coach, Crowell set career highs in attempts (198), yards (952), receptions (40), receiving yards (319) and yards from scrimmage (1,271). He was poised for an even larger workload this upcoming year, but that has yet to be seen on the field.

Whether it’s a lack of execution or the holes are closing to quick, but something’s got to give. Crowell needs volume to produce numbers on the field. He needs 15-20 carries a game and although his career average of 4.2 yards per carry may not show it, that’s not really who he is. He is probably around a three-year per carry guy, but his homerun potential is what creeps that average up and there is nothing wrong with that. He chips away at the defense and then breaks one off, but it doesn’t help that Cleveland abandons the ground attack when they fall behind and let’s face it, that’s often. The ball needs to run regardless of the scoreboard. It keeps the defense honest.

Whether you want to blame Jackson or Crowell or both, something needs to change for the better. It could be the game planning, the playing calling, the effort/execution or even a confidence issue. The two need to have a conversation and fast. That conversation happened yesterday afternoon so I guess we will have to wait and see what transpires during the Indianapolis Colts game on Sunday.

FEED THE CROW!!!

Max Gold is Senior Writer for Cleveland Sports Talk

Follow the author: @CST_Max_Gold

Photos: ESPN

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