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Tuesday, November 26, 2013
On the run game -- or lack thereof

By Pat McManamon

There may have been many good and wise reasons for the Cleveland Browns to trade Trent Richardson.

In Indianapolis, Richardson has provided no reason whatsoever to make the Browns lament the deal. Nor did he do anything for the Browns to make the team think trading him would be foolish, or that a first-round pick in return was (as they now say) good value.

But that doesn’t mean the Browns' running game isn’t shorted without him.

A year ago, Richardson ran for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie -- while he played with broken ribs. Eight hundred yards and five touchdowns would look joyful for the Browns' run game right now.

The team’s leading rusher is Willis McGahee; he has 287 yards and is averaging 2.6 per carry. Chris Ogbonnaya is second; he has 196 yards (and a 6.3-yard average, which is why he’s playing more than McGahee).

Willis McGahee
Willis McGahee is the Cleveland Browns' leading rusher with 287 yards.
McGahee ranks 50th in the NFL, Ogbonnaya 66th.

The Browns have had 91 yards or less as a team in six of the last eight games. In one of the two they had more than 91, they had a 45-yard reverse from Travis Benjamin.

The point: The backs aren’t getting much done.

They rank 28th in the league with 81 yards per game. They rank 29th at 21.4 carries, 26th at 3.8 yards per carry and 32nd with one stinking rushing touchdown. That’s one. O-n-e. All season.

The NFL may be morphing into a passing league, as Joe Thomas tells us. But there are times when a team needs to run the ball. Pittsburgh’s run game ranks lower than the Browns, but rookie Le’Veon Bell ran well and hard in the win on Sunday. When the Steelers needed a carry from him, he usually provided positive yards.

The Browns can’t say that. And that, combined with the fact they’ve fallen behind the past two weeks, led to them throwing 57 and 52 passes against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh respectively.

That is simply not a way to win.

The point can be made that the run game might be the exact same with Richardson. It would be hard to argue it the way he’s not running with the Colts.

It’s easy, too, to say that the decision to keep Fozzy Whittaker over Bobby Rainey was a mistake. But Rainey did little to justify staying in Cleveland, and after a big game for the Bucs against Atlanta he carried 18 times for 35 yards against Detroit.

In the offseason, team CEO Joe Banner admitted there would be positions this season where the team simply would not be able to fill its needs; that it was impossible to address everything in one offseason. He also said the team would be well aware of this.

Presumably the team is well aware of its issues at running back.

It’s easy to call the NFL a passing league, but most teams that depend on the pass have guys named Brady or Stafford or Roethlisberger or Manning or Brees or Luck.

A team that’s started three quarterback and is on the verge of its fourth change at the position that doesn’t even have a 300-yard back ... well, that’s trouble.

Big trouble.

And probably why offensive coordinator Norv Turner over and over has called this situation unique and something he’s never dealt with before.

No doubt he hopes to never deal with it again.