What is wrong with the Browns’ running game?

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Sep 25, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson (29) stiff arms Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard (25) during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium.The Miami Dolphins defeat the Cleveland Browns 34-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 25, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson (29) stiff arms Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard (25) during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium.The Miami Dolphins defeat the Cleveland Browns 34-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns’ running game has disappeared over the past two weeks. Here is a breakdown of what is going well and no so well with running the ball.

The Cleveland Browns have forgotten how to run the ball. In two weeks’ time, the Browns have gone from first in the league in rushing to eleventh. What happened to bring the Browns running game to a screeching halt?

Unfortunately, a lot has been going wrong for the Browns in the running game. But you are in luck. I am here to break it all down for you.

Merry-go-round offensive line

The most obvious answer to why the Browns running game has fallen apart is the offensive line merry-go-round. The Browns have yet to start the same offensive line two weeks in a row since Week 2.

Center is a mess. When Cameron Erving was healthy, his play on the field needed a lot of improvement. He was not communicating well with John Greco leading to missed blocks and pressure up the middle. He struggled to identity the “mike” in order to set the blocking scheme.

Josh McCown was the unlucky beneficiary of Erving’s play. Now that he is back at center, the same issues reared their ugly heads against the Tennessee Titans. On several occasions, lack of communication with Greco and Alvin Bailey led to vicious hits on the quarterback. Austin Reiter did an amazing job filling in for Erving. Unfortunately, his ACL tear ripped a solid center out of the lineup.

John Greco is a good right guard. But he is not a good center. The Browns failure to plan for a backup center has really hurt the running game. Neither Erving nor Greco have been able to block effectively at center in the running game. They both have trouble capturing their man in zone schemes. They both also struggle to fill the void left by pulling guards. Center is a major black hole the Browns must address either through the draft, getting Reiter healthy or coaching Erving into an effective player.

The loss of Joel Bitonio has hurt the interior line. The guards and center make up the interior line.  The interior has little stability since Week 2. Greco has played guard and center. The end result is a general lack of cohesion among the group. Nobody in the interior can get comfortable with what they are doing and who should be blocking who.

Alvin Bailey did an adequate job filling in for John Greco when he moved to center, but he looked lost playing left guard. Part of the issue could be Greco’s ability to call out protections versus Erving’s struggles. He consistently failed to capture his man in zone blocking. He also failed to get initial contact on the man over him in order to allow the center to capture the man.

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