Cleveland Browns: 5 keys to success in 2015

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Sep 21, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell (34) runs through the defense of Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (57) during the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Five weeks into the 2014 NFL season, the Browns were fourth in league in rushing with an average of 142.2 yards per game.

That number helped contribute, in a big way, toward quarterback Brian Hoyer having a quarterback rating of 103.8.

But that all changed on a Sunday afternoon against Pittsburgh.

Even though the Browns ran for 158 yards and three touchdowns that day during a beatdown of the Steelers, the season started to come off the rails when Mack went down with a season-ending leg injury.

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Following that game, the Browns turned into one of the worst running teams in the NFL as they struggled to fill a Mack-size hole in the offensive line. While they were better than the franchise-worst rushing attack in 2013, the Browns finished 28th in the league with 3.6 yards per carry and saw their per-game average drop to 108 yards.

Mack’s return will help the Browns refocus on the run, but the work will also fall on second-year running backs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell and rookie Duke Johnson – who left Miami as the school’s all-time rushing leader.

In addition to running the ball, the Browns will look to return the running backs to the passing game, once again helping to take some of the pressure off the unsettled quarterback position.

“We don’t want to be all just one thing — where if a team takes your fastball away, you have no complement,” Pettine told the team’s website. “But at the same time you still have to have something you go to that’s your core. That’s really what we are finding out now: What are our core plays going to be? We might dress them up, in different personnel groupings, different formations and different shifts … and get to those looks in different ways, but still have those core plays be what they are.”

Make no mistake about it, the Browns core is going to be the running game, and the offense will go as far as the trio of West, Crowell and Johnson carry it.

Next: Win in December