‘Physical’ playoff teams model for Browns

Posted Jan 17, 2014

Senior Editor Vic Carucci says that in their search for a new head coach, the Browns can’t overlook the importance of upgrading their running game.

The general thinking behind the Browns’ highest offseason priority – once they find a head coach, of course – goes as follows: get the quarterback position right, and all will be fine.

It has a great deal of merit.

The NFL is, after all, a quarterback-driven league. For further proof, one only needs to look at Sunday’s conference championship games where the two best quarterbacks in the history of the game, Denver’s Peyton Manning and New England’s Tom Brady, square off for the AFC title, and two of the NFL’s top young quarterbacks, San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick and Seattle’s Russell Wilson, face each other for the NFC crown.

The Browns will enter May’s draft with an eye toward finding, once and for all, their franchise passer and they’ll look to their new coach and coaching staff to do their part to help him become a dynamic force.

But they can’t forget another area of their offense in dire need of improvement: their running game.

The Browns finished tied with the Steelers for 27th in the league in rushing offense, and that doesn’t even begin to describe the disaster that was their efforts to move the ball on the ground.

The Browns never had a legitimate starting running back, including Trent Richardson, whom they traded to Indianapolis (where he also struggled) two games into the season. Their offensive line never provided a consistent push to help give the backs they had a whole lot of running room. By the end of the season, the Browns’ most promising ball-carriers were one they added late in the year, Edwin Baker, and one who never saw field, Dion Lewis, who suffered a season-ending broken leg in the preseason.

Rebuilding the Browns’ offense might start at quarterback and focus heavily on the passing game.

But it can’t stop there.

Besides top-notch quarterbacking, another thing the NFL’s final four teams have in common is that they utilized run-oriented game plans to advance to Sunday’s games. Their offensive lines were physical and punishing, as were their backs.

Who would have ever believed that Brady would be a virtual afterthought compared with LeGarrette Blount, who made history by rushing for 166 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Patriots to a 43-22 divisional-round victory against the Colts?

Who would have ever believed that Manning would need every bit of the 133 rushing yards that Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball provided in the Broncos’ 24-17 divisional-round triumph against the Chargers?

Marshawn Lynch paved the way for the Seahawks’ 23-15 divisional-round win against New Orleans, while Frank Gore ran for a solid 84 yards in the 49ers’ 23-10 divisional-round victory at Carolina.

The Patriots, Broncos, 49ers, and Seahawks demonstrated that contending for a championship can’t be solely achieved with big plays through the air.

The Browns’ new coaches need to do their part to deliver offensive balance.

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