Cleveland Browns rookie Jerome Ford may break out versus Tampa Bay

Browns, Jerome Ford. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Browns, Jerome Ford. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

If there is a secret weapon in the Cleveland Browns offensive arsenal, it could be Jerome Ford, the rookie from the University of Cincinnati Bearcats.

Jerome Ford, if he gets a shot, might be the breakout star the Cleveland Browns are looking for in order to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 12. The Bucs are extremely tough on defense with only 180 points allowed, but if they have a weakness it may be against the run, where they have given up 4.5 yards per carry and rank 13th overall with 1,166 yards surrendered.

The bulk of the carries for the Browns have to go to superstar Nick Chubb. That much is clear. However, opposing defenses have learned that they can key on Chubb, by sending eight players in the box to stop the run, and endure the aerial bombardment from Jacoby Brissett versus man-to-man coverage.

Cleveland has been looking for a counterpart to spread the workload all season long. Kareem Hunt, though still somewhat effective as a receiver, has not been his normal self, posting only 3.9 yards per carry versus 4.9 yards per carry last season. Moreover, they appear to have given up on D’Ernest Johnson, his career rushing average of 5.2 yards/carry notwithstanding. Perhaps this might be a good time to let Ford have a few game reps as a change of pace back or even as a slot receiver.

Ford has been outstanding as a return man, with 11 returns for 283 yards, or 26.3 yards per return. He has shown great elusiveness. He missed time this season on IR with an ankle injury but is showing no residual effects on special teams. He has come close to breaking a return open on several occasions. Maybe he might make a big play against Tampa Bay.

Ford starred at the University of Cincinnati, after two years at Alabama. In his last year at Cincinnati, he gained 1,319 yards on the ground and added another 220 receiving yards. He definitely passed the eyeball test in the preseason, gaining 88 yards in 19 carries (4.6 yards per carry) with eight catches in nine targets for 71 receiving yards. He scored once on the ground and once via airball.

Nick Chubb has a career average of 6.0 yards per carry in the fourth quarter, so if the Browns can keep him fresh, they can be devastating. That can best be accomplished if they have other backs to absorb some of the pounding in the first three quarters.

Though the Browns have averaged a respectable 24.0 points per game this season, they aren’t the top rushing team that everyone expected at the beginning of the season. Rather, they are fifth, behind the Bears, Ravens, Falcons, and Giants. It’s almost impossible to lead the NFL in rushing yards with just one great running back, or even with only two. Usually, teams with a dominant rushing attack get meaningful rushing yards from several running backs.

If the Browns are not going to give touches to D’Ernest Johnson at all, and continue to diminish the role of Kareem Hunt, then there might be — should be — an opportunity for Ford to get some touches. Come on, coach, give the kid a shot.