Fans have complained about the lack of productivity to begin the season for RB Isaiah Crowell. Personally, I don’t think he’s doing anything different than he’s done in the first three years of his career. Crowell has had four-game stretches where he’ll average less than two yards a carry, and then all of a sudden, he’ll have a four-game stretch where he averages close to six yards a carry.
Since Crowell only had 10 carries this past week (for 37 yards) against the Baltimore Ravens, that was just small enough of a size for me to break down all of Crowell’s runs. You don’t have to zero in on his decision-making only; the team’s blocking should also be taken into account.
Many runs will be up to interpretation on whether the running back made an OK decision or not. I’ll provide my opinion, but do not intend to definitely convey who is to blame for a run being successful or not.
1st Quarter, 1st-and-10 @CLE 25 - 3 yard gain
On Crowell’s first carry of the game, the center and right guard pull wide right to sell a run play coming that direction. The four defenders on that side of the field commit to it, and then Joel Bitonio and Joe Thomas block the two defenders in front of them. That leaves Terrell Suggs with a decision to pursue Kizer or Crowell.
Although he sticks with Crowell, he’s able to use his speed to get to the outside for a three-yard gain. If Rashard Higgins had been able to block his defender a little longer, Crowell could’ve cut this upfield for a few more yards.
Verdict: Crowell was fine.
1st Quarter, 2nd-and-7 @CLE 28 - No gain
On the very next play, this one ends quickly for no gain. There’s nothing complex about the blocking here. The thing of note is that initially, Joel Bitonio goes to chip the defender in front of Joe Thomas. Then, Bitonio releases and tries to help J.C. Tretter with a block on Brandon Williams (No. 98). Inadvertently, Bitonio’s help chip on Williams actually sends the defensive tackle in to Crowell’s path, where he is tripped up.
Verdict: Crowell did hesitate when he first touched the ball. An immediate cut outside could’ve produced more yards, but I can’t fault a running back for trying to keep the play inside — bouncing runs to the outside by default all the time can get you into trouble.
1st Quarter, 1st-and-10 @CLE 9 - 9 yard gain
This play works because the Browns lined up with a stack of receivers wide left, which keeps both Terrell Suggs (No. 55) and Patrick Onwuasor (No. 48) guessing. Joe Thomas allows Brandon Williams (No. 98) to get penetration inside, using that against him for when Crowell makes his cutback. Right as Crowell is hitting the hole, Joel Bitonio gives a nice block at the second level to spring Crowell for 9 yards.
Verdict: Good all around.
1st Quarter, 2nd-and-1 @CLE 18 - 2 yard gain
On the next play, we’ve got the tight end coming across the formation to crack Terrell Suggs (No. 55). The box is stacked with eight defenders for this short yardage play, and Cleveland’s objective here is to just pick up the first down. With C.J. Mosley (No. 57) being free, Crowell can’t go through the middle and just gets the two yards for the first down.
Verdict: Mission accomplished. One could argue that they’d like to do a playaction pass here, but we also want the running game to get into a rhythm, right?
1st Quarter, 1st-and-20 @CLE 15 - 2 yard gain
I loathe running plays on 1st-and-20. The Browns have five blockers (from Kevin Zeitler to Joe Thomas and the tight end) block to the left, leaving C.J. Mosley (No. 57) and Kamalei Correa (No. 51) unblocked at the second level initially (although you can see that J.C. Tretter was going to take on Mosley). Crowell starts left but cuts to the middle where two free defenders are, ending the play for only a two yard gain.
Verdict: Maybe it was schemed that the middle would be wide open here? Otherwise, Crowell should’ve stayed left and found a lane to cut through over there.
2nd Quarter, 1st-and-10 @CLE 9 - 1 yard loss
There are a lot of moving pieces on this pitch play in the second quarter. David Njoku (tight right) and Kevin Zeitler both block their defenders to the inside. J.C. Tretter and Shon Coleman swing to the outside, and Danny Vitale is there with them. Together, Tretter, Coleman, and Vitale are supposed to lead the way for Crowell. Coleman doesn’t get his man blocked toward the sideline or end zone quick enough, and Njoku is pushed into the gap that Tretter and Vitale are trying to go through, creating a momentary logjam. A play like this is contingent on every block working to perfection, so it’s no surprise that it goes for a loss of a yard.
Verdict: Crowell has to follow the direction of the pitch here, and he did. Although it’s a loss, I don’t see much else he could’ve done.
2nd Quarter, 1st-and-10 @BAL 24 - 1 yard gain
At last, a run in Baltimore territory! This one came with Kevin Hogan under center and was the play before the touchdown to David Njoku. The Browns have six blockers all take on the man in front of them, and a gap opens in the center of the field momentarily. However, S Tony Jefferson creeps toward the box just before the snap and ends up being a free defender. Crowell wanted to cut there, but then took it inside right into the back of Kevin Zeitler for just a gain.
Verdict: Again, it’s hard to tell what the play calls for: an outside run, a cutback run, or it being up to Crowell. He sticks his foot in the ground to cut back right after he receivers the carry, and at that point, the play is dead in the water. If he decided to stay left, he might have gained a few more yards in hindsight.
3rd Quarter, 1st-and-10 @BAL 39 - 17 yard gain
Ah, euphoria — I love it when a plan comes together. Shon Coleman chips his defender and then blocks one of the linebackers furthest away from him. Joel Bitonio and Danny Vitale both swing over to the right side and (BANG!) hit their blocks synchronously. Crowell sees the hole, squeezes through, and gets the big gain. This again came with Hogan under center; I wish we’d do some more of these looks with Kizer in the game.
3rd Quarter, 1st-and-10 @BAL 22 - 2 yard gain
The Browns tried to keep the momentum going with a run play on the next down. Most of the line pulls left, with Danny Vitale shooting the cutback lane and taking out the defender. Crowell wants to cut back and would’ve had a hole here, but Kevin Zeitler is playing to shield off the nose tackle from getting to the outside. If Zeitler had shielded off the inside, then Crowell has the cutback run for good yardage. However, by Zeitler executing the block the way he did, that leads me to believe Crowell was intended to run outside.
Verdict: Hard to say, but Cleveland definitely could’ve had a better result here.
3rd Quarter, 1st-and-10 @CLE 14 - 2 yard gain
Here is Crowell’s final rushing attempt of the game. Seth DeValve comes across the formation to crack the edge rusher, and everyone else is blocking to the right. This one is definitely designed to be a surprise cutback run, and Crowell could’ve had close to first-down yardage...but Kevin Zeitler is driven back just a hair too much, and the defender swallows up Crowell.
Verdict: One could argue that Crowell took one too unnecessary step before cutting back. Zeitler could’ve done better, but I’ll go ahead and pin this one on Crowell.
Overall, I remain satisfied with what Crowell is doing -- although the lack of big rushing days statistically isn’t doing him any favors in a contract year.
What about you, Browns fans? What is your assessment?