Browns’ running game faces big test vs. Titans

Posted by Vic Carucci on September 29, 2011 – 9:14 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

The Browns faced their largest offensive hurdle of the season when they took on the Dolphins without Peyton Hillis in their backfield.

They still managed to put together a solid rushing attack, thanks to a nice performance by Montario Hardesty in relief, and that went a long way toward them improving their record to 2-1.

But the Browns also were helped by the fact they were facing the struggling defense of a winless opponent.

Things will change dramatically Sunday when the Tennessee Titans come to town with the NFL’s top-ranked defense and eighth-ranked unit against the run.

In building a 2-1 record, the Titans have done an excellent job of stopping the run. In their three games, they have allowed only 267 rushing yards, and an average of only 3.1 yards per carry.

The Titans’ ability to make opponents one-dimensional is a major factor in also being able to shut down opponents’ passing attacks.

That brings us to the Browns’ offense, which showed excellent balance in the Week 2 victory against the Colts but then became pass-happy seven days later in the win against Miami.

Some of the Browns’ problems in the running game did stem from the fact that they didn’t have their best runner, Hillis, who was out with strep throat. Despite Hardesty’s impressive work against the Dolphins, the Browns’ ground attack clearly functions at a higher level with Hillis carrying the ball. Ideally, the Browns can utilize Hillis’ power inside and up the middle and Hardesty’s speed outside, which should be the case with Hillis returning back to good health.

What is not so ideal is a ratio of 39 passes to 19 runs, 17 by backs, as was the case in the Miami game. The Browns’ offense was often sloppy, and Colt McCoy had too many passes batted down, missed the mark on other throws, and often found himself on the run.

McCoy did come up with a couple of remarkable touchdown throws, to Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi, and that – along with a sterling defensive performance and a break or two – allowed the Browns to escape with a victory.

But they can’t count on being that fortunate each week. They must be able to establish a physical presence, and that begins with an offensive line being able to consistently get enough push and create enough holes for Hillis and Hardesty to have success running the ball.

More than anything, the Browns need to stay persistent with the run, need to do everything possible to control the game’s tempo and keep McCoy out of unfavorable down-and-distance situations.

It is clear that the Browns, like almost any team, have a much lower chance for success when their quarterback is trying to force throws rather than moving the offense with good timing and rhythm.

 A strong rushing attack will help prevent that.

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