It's time for a case study regarding the Cleveland Browns, involving our first two games of the regular season. The study is simple: what has happened to the Cleveland Browns running game? Last year, we were all ecstatic that Reuben Droughns became our first 1,000-yard+ rushed in twenty years. With the rate Droughns is at now though, he'll only rush for 472 yards the entire season, which would be a 261% downfall from last season. What makes things worse is that Droughns was stronger earlier in the year last year, and finished a little slower as it seemed like his body wore down.
- Week 1: vs. New Orleans Saints 11 carries, 27 yards, 2.5 average. Heading into the season, the Saints' defensive line was deemed as ok, but Droughns was supposed to be able to completely rip apart their linebacking crew. In fact, many "fantasy experts" picked Droughns as a running back to shine for the first week of the season, but that was anything but the case. We're not taking into account the awful plays that were called by our offensive coordinator, but when Droughns had his chances, he didn't look like the 1,000-yard rusher of a season ago. In the Saints other game though, they were able to hold Packers' running back Ahman Green to just 42 yards on 16 carries, a 2.6 average. Please note that the week before, Green carried the ball 20 times for 110 yards, a 5.5 average, against the ferocious Chicago Bears defense.
- Week 2: vs. Cincinnati Bengals 14 carries, 32 yards, 2.3 average, 1 touchdown. Although Droughns started the game a little faster against the Bengals, the notable funkiness in playcalling was displayed again, as the first five plays of the game for Cleveland were handoffs to Droughns. He scored on a one-yard drive, but if you're going to win football games, you would definitely need to have better performances than this. In comparison, in Week 1, the Bengals held Chiefs running back Larry Johnson to 68 yards on 17 carries, a 4.0 average. Johnson is considered to be in one of the league's best running systems, and the Bengals were able to handle him fairly well.
What does this mean? It'd be easy to say that if we had a better offensive line, our problems would be solved. We want to figure out how Droughns can rush for 100+ yards per game with what we have now.
So far, it seems like the main mistake with the Browns is that we are not rolling Frye out of the pocket early enough in the game. Frye is not effective enough as a pure pocket passer at this point. However, when he is stuck in the pocket, the defense does not have to worry about spying him. Then, any time there is a playaction, the defense quickly attacks Droughns by overpowering out offensive line. When Frye does a playaction pass, our receivers aren't getting open enough, and since Droughns isn't a threat to catch the ball, he really wasn't a threat in the first place. In the second half, we have found ourselves behind in the game, meaning Frye is forced to pass. Since running the ball is not an option anymore, Frye displays where he is most effective - throwing the defense off with rollouts. Due to this, you'll notice that the playaction plays work better as well, despite Droughns not getting the ball. There is an extra spy on Frye, so when he playactions, there is one less man in coverage.
The diagnosis to the problem is simple, and probably could've been stated right away without going into this long piece: move Frye out of the pocket before establishing the run. If we continue to refuse to take that offensive approach to begin a game, we'll find ourselves continuously relying on our defense to win games. Against the Baltimore Ravens this week, running the ball will be tougher than it was the first two games. Establishing the run right away would be nice start, but we simply are not that good.
Unfortunately, Droughns may not even play this week. That could mean a start for either Jerome Harrison or Jason Wright. Droughns isn't the only person on our injury report:
- Out: Nick Eason (ankle)
- Doubtful: Gary Baxter (pectoral), Orpheus Roye (shoulder), Joe Jurevicius (rib), Darnell Dinkins
- Questionable: Reuben Droughns (shoulder), Willie McGinest (calf), Brian Russell (elbow)