The Cleveland Browns offense has been doing a good job of moving the football through the air over the past month or so, but the run game has undoubtedly fallen behind.
The most obvious and impactful reason is due to the amount of injuries that the team is dealing with along the offensive line.
Current Offensive Line Injuries
Jedrick Wills Jr. - Knee / IR
Joel Bitonio - Back / Limited
Ethan Pocic - Stinger / Limited
Jack Conklin - Knee / IR
Dawand Jones - Knee / IR
Ty Nsekhe - Biceps / Practice squad IR
Dawson Deaton - Knee / Waived with an injury designation in July
Though Cleveland has had to endure a seemingly endless amount of injuries to multiple position groups in 2023, the offensive line is where it’s hurt the most. The pass-blocking aspect has been fairly adequate since Joe Flacco has taken over but as mentioned before, the run game has taken quite a noticeable hit over the past few weeks.
Since week 13, the Browns rank 26th in rushing attempts per game, 29th in yards per carry, and 30th in total rushing yards per game. This is a monumental drop in each of those statistics when you consider that they were ranked in the top 10 in all of these categories earlier in the season.
Offensive tackle is currently the weakest area on the offensive line in terms of overall ability. There’s a huge dropoff when it comes to run blocking from Jedrick Wills and Jack Conklin to Geron Christian and James Hudson. When you have this type of talent discrepancy at such a crucial position up front, you need to make adjustments to the blocking schemes themselves.
There’s a good chance that Cleveland will be shifting to more of a power-heavy, gap-blocking approach going forward to not only make it easier for everyone but for the offensive tackles specifically. As an offensive lineman, it’s much easier to attack or block a defender that’s lined up in a weakside gap in a power scheme as opposed to when they’re head-up or in a play-side gap in a zone scheme.
In these gap-blocking variations, the offensive tackles aren’t tasked with being “put on an island” against more athletic edge players, while attempting to run them off to the sideline or hook them inside. All they have to do is fire off the ball at an angle and drive their defender (the defensive tackle or linebacker) away from the ball, especially when facing a 4-3 “over” front. They only have to worry about defenders that are inside of them because there will always be a puller or “whammer” that will be tasked with blocking the defensive ends.
The Browns’ current gap/power run usage rate is at 49%, but I believe that we could see that number increase to around 60% going forward.
Why do you think Cleveland’s run game has been struggling so much as of late? Join fellow Browns fans in the comment section below.