Hue Jackson has revitalized the Cleveland Browns’ run game after its decade-long vacancy.
William Green. Reuben Droughns. Peyton Hillis. Trent Richardson. These are just a few of the Browns’ running backs over the last decade, none of whom remain in the NFL. The team has yet to establish a successful run game since their return to Cleveland in 1999 and have suffered because of it.
Enter Hue Jackson.
The former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator has transformed this Cleveland Browns offense, beginning with a focus on the rushing attack. He was adamant in his first weeks on the job that the run game was to be the focal point of this offense.
The Cleveland Browns currently lead the NFL in rushing, thanks in large part to Jackson’s game planning. Not bad for a team that has failed to crack the top half of the league in rushing in three years.
Before the season began, starting running back Isaiah Crowell set a personal goal of 1,000 rushing yards. Coach Jackson replied with a surprising yet inspiring answer when he got wind of the Crow’s goal.
“Only 1,000?” Jackson said. “Why not more?”
Crowell has improved each season of his career young career and now, in his third year, expects to take off. Individually, Crowell ranks No. 2 with 386 rushing yards throughout four games in 2016. He is also leading the NFL by averaging 6.4 yards per carry so far this season, topping his previous best of 4.1. The former Alabama State running back now has the most rushing yards by a Browns back through four games since Hall of Famer Jim Brown. The legendary superstar had 476 yards through four games in 1965.
“I have said it a long time ago I think he’s one of the better backs in this league,” Jackson said after the Browns’ 31-20 loss to Washington.
Crowell’s counterpart, Duke Johnson, is a versatile, playmaking back that has been featured in the passing game out of the backfield. Johnson, who is the Miami Hurricanes’ top rusher in program history, is the opposite of Crowell. As a rookie, it was widely conspired that Johnson was not used nearly enough and his inefficiency was blamed on the game plan. However, Johnson has flashed his potential and resilience on the field under the guidance of his new head coach.
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Hue Jackson had a similar duo in Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill during his time with the Bengals. Bernard is the receiving, third-down back whereas Hill supplied the head-down-and-pound approach. Having faced Cleveland twice each season, Jackson had a good idea of the Browns’ dynamic duo. Except the coaches weren’t utilizing them correctly. Fans witnessed the rise of the Bengals as they became one of the prominent teams in the NFL with the high-powered offense under Jackson’s direction.
The Browns have appreciated the philosophies their new head coach has brought to Cleveland and hope to reap the benefits like the Bengals. With a rookie quarterback, questions remaining on the offensive line and a youth movement at the receiver position, the Browns will continue to focus on the run game.
Jackson has established the Browns’ run game through four weeks and has turned Crowell into a stud. There is no reason to believe this will not continue moving forward. The success of the running game should translate to more opportunities for Kessler to hit receivers – making wins easier to come by.