Browns coaching shake-up not just for Deshaun Watson, but also to fix the run game

Discover the reasons behind the Browns decision to let go of offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and other coaches.

Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns / Cooper Neill/GettyImages
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Earlier this week it was announced the Cleveland Browns have let go of offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, running backs coach Stump Mitchell, and tight ends coach T.C. McCartney. To the average eye, this was surprising as the Browns were a team that got hot later in the year with backup quarterback Joe Flacco. That explosive passing attack led to a playoff berth for the first time in three years.

Looking closer though, the offense was clearly out of sync early on. Even when star QB Deshaun Watson played, and played well, the passing attack was very pedestrian, only amassing 250 passing yards once in the five full games he played. Some are already speculating that these moves were made to find new coaches that will tailor more to Watson’s style of play. While that's true, these moves were also made because of how abysmal the run game was last season.

Now of course I say this acknowledging that no running game is the same after your starting running back goes down with an injury. Even more so when the starter is arguably the best at his position like Nick Chubb. You also have to acknowledge three of their best offensive tackles were put on IR.

Knowing all of this though, to have the drop off they had was very alarming when taking a deep dive. Since their epic second-half comeback against the Ravens in Baltimore, the Browns never amassed 130 total yards rushing in a game. If the nine straight games with a lacking rushing attack wasn’t surprising enough the yards per carry of the team for the season was 3.9.

That's the lowest average of any Browns team since 2014. This means in the three straight years where the team won three games and was bottom five in points scored, they ran the ball better back then compared to this year's roster — which is immensely more talented even without the star players who were injured. 

Relieving the TEs coach echoed this as well, as despite how well the position group did catching the football, they were atrocious blocking in the run game. Two of the three tight ends were bottom four in terms of PFF grades for run blocking. To make matters even worse, this list included all of the wide receivers and running backs as well. Positions that are normally not good at run blocking.

The worst run plays for the Browns this year in terms of the hole the running play attacked, was when it was a run to the edge, also known as the hole where the tight end lines up. When running to the edge, Cleveland averaged 3.5 yards a carry.

Compare that to the 4.05 yards per carry when the run play was run behind anywhere else on the offensive line. Now in normal situations that would be acceptable as a traditional offensive lineman block better than tight ends, but for half of the season, the Browns were starting their fourth and fifth-string offensive tackles. 

Looking ahead, the Browns have already interviewed two coaches, former Panthers RB coach Duce Staley for the RB coach position and former Seahawks OL coach/run game coordinator Andy Dickerson. Staley was a former 1,000-yard running back in the league years ago and while coaching running backs in Detroit, his group led the league in rushing touchdowns by running backs.

Dickerson, on the other hand, gained praise this past season for his offensive line being solid despite 10 different players logging over 200 snaps. His run game in 2021 was also third in the league in yards per carry.

Knowing this front office they will interview several other candidates before making any decisions on a hire, but if you pay attention to the trend they want new coaches to be proficient in the run game. The Browns are all in on Watson and what better way to help him out, than to give him the best run game possible?