The Cleveland Browns have not been able to run the ball so far in 2017, and head coach Hue Jackson believes the situation will only resolve itself with time.
The Cleveland Browns entered the 2017 NFL season with what seemed like it should be a straight forward plan of attack on offense.
The club spent millions on the offensive line by signing center J.C. Tretter and right guard Kevin Zeitler in free agency and inking left guard Joel Bitonio to a contract extension.
They also brought back the nucleus of a rushing attack in running backs Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, who helped the team average 4.9 yards per carry last season.
Combine that with the decision to pair rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer with a young group of wide receivers and it appeared likely that the Browns would run the ball as much as possible.
Two weeks into the season, however, that has not been the case as the Browns are just 25th in the league in rushing yards per game at 75, and 24th in yards per carry at 3.3.
Crowell, who is angling for a new contract while playing out the season on a one-year tender, is not helping his cause, according to Pro Football Focus, which ranks Crowell 51st out of 52 running backs in yards after contact and 46th overall among running backs.
It doesn’t help, either, that Crowell admitted on Wednesday that the new contract is always at the forefront of his mind.
The situation with the running game is not going to change until, well, it is ready to change, head coach Hue Jackson said in his Wednesday media session, according to clevelandbrowns.com:
"“It’s time on task. That’s all it is. I mean, I couldn’t have played all of these guys for every quarter in the preseason. I knew there were going to be some rough spots. I don’t like the rough spots. I don’t like the turnovers, I don’t like the production on offense, I don’t like the consistency, but I knew that this was going to happen. I know that we’re getting there.”"
Jackson is right in that it takes time for the pieces to jell, especially with right tackle Shon Coleman joining Tretter and Zeitler as three new starters on the offensive line.
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But it still seems as if the Browns should be able to run the ball more effectively than they have so far this season. And they certainly should be running it more to take some of the pressure (and hits) off of Kizer.
When that will actually happen, if it does happen, remains to be seen.
The task will not get any easier on Sunday when the Browns take on the Indianapolis Colts, who are seventh in the league against the rush, giving up 73 yards per game, and second overall as they are giving up just 2.5 yards per carry.
Things get better after that, however, as following the Colts the Browns will take on two of the worst rush defenses in the NFL in the Cincinnati Bengals (31st in yards allowed at 162.5 per game and 20th in yards per carry at 4.2) and the New York Jets (32nd in yards allowed at 185 yards per game and 30th in yards per carry at 5.4).
It will be one thing if the Browns struggle again this week against the Colts as Indianapolis is playing well against the run right now. But if Cleveland can’t get things going against the Bengals and the Jets, it will be a different story.
We get that it is a process – at this point what isn’t when it comes to the Browns – but it is also getting to be time to let the offensive line start grinding down the opposing defense.
What better way to get “time on task,” to use Jackson’s own words, than by putting up a healthy 30 to 35 carries come Sunday against the Colts?