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Browns striving for more balance

Posted Oct 17, 2013

Senior Editor Vic Carucci says the Browns will look to have a more balanced offense for Sunday’s game at Green Bay and beyond.

The Browns never were at a point this season where they could afford to place the full weight of their offense on the quarterback’s passing arm.

That was every bit as true when Brian Hoyer was behind the center as it was/is with Brandon Weeden there.

Although Hoyer won both of his starts before suffering a season-ending knee injury – including a 54-passes-attempted-to-17-rushes-attempted game at Minnesota – he was unlikely to continue to succeed with such overwhelming offensive imbalance. Amazingly, he managed to overcome three interceptions in a 31-27 Browns victory decided by his touchdown throw in the last minute. But the absence of a rushing attack made Hoyer particularly vulnerable to turnovers and other mistakes, as well as to the kind of hit that prematurely ended his season.

Weeden clearly demonstrated how bad a fit that formula was for him when he threw 53 passes and Trent Richardson had a mere 13 runs in the 23-10 season-opening loss to Miami.

And the Browns’ coaches understand, especially after how badly the offense struggled when it became one-dimensional in the second half of last Sunday’s 31-17 loss to Detroit, that they need to do as much as possible to help Weeden and the NFL’s 17th-ranked passing attack succeed.

They have worked on some schematic adjustments and tweaks for this Sunday’s game at Green Bay. They also are preparing to incorporate more rushing into their game plan, as they did through the first half against the Lions when they produced a season-high 115 yards on the ground.

“I believe in the balance that you want to have as an offense,” coach Rob Chudzinski said. “And that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen all the time, but we want to be able to run the football and throw the football. I think, when you get one-dimensional, it’s just not going to be in our best interest or give us the best chance to win.”

Although the Browns rank 22nd in the league in rushing, they have provided some hope in their ability to at least become reasonably productive in that area.

That came when they opened the Lions game with an impressive display of power football that allowed Willis McGahee to gain 33 yards on eight carries and Chris Ogbonnaya to run for 18 yards on four tries. The approach was a significant deviation from the pass-to-set-up-the-run script that offensive coordinator Norv Turner tends to follow, and was especially surprising given the Lions’ mammoth defensive-tackle duo of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.

But it proved that the Browns’ offensive line, flawed as it might be in some ways, is more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the biggest and strongest of defensive fronts.

“We’re improving in the running game,” Chudzinski said. “I think that the offensive line had their most physical game that they played last week, so I’m pleased with how that’s come along and that has seemed to improve. And we still have a lot of work to do.”

Generally speaking, the Browns’ line is built more for throwing than running. It has a pair of exceptional pass-blockers in six-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas and standout center Alex Mack. Left guard John Greco, right guard Shawn Lauvao and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz are fairly light on their feet and the entire group isn’t as widely known as other offensive lines in the NFL for consistently overpowering opponents.

But that doesn’t mean it would prefer to avoid trying to do so.

“Running the ball is something every O-lineman wants to do, wants to be really proficient at,” Mack said. “I know, in (certain) situations, you obviously can’t. You’ve got to throw the ball when you have to throw the ball. And what you want to be able to do is both early in the game, and I think we’ve had some success at that.”

Finding that success on Sunday doesn’t figure to be easy against the Packers’ massive defensive line of left end B.J. Raji (6-foot-2 and 337 pounds), nose tackle Ryan Pickett (6-2, 340 pounds), and right end Johnny Jolly (6-3, 325 pounds).

“They have some real big-bodied guys,” Mack said. “It’s going to make it real tough to run the ball. It’s going to be tough to move those guys.”

But the important thing is that the Browns will try. They have to.

Being one-dimensional is no way for the NFL’s 24th-ranked offense to get better.

“I don’t think we’re dominant in one area where you can just do one and not do the other,” Chudzinski said. “And they both complement each other. It’ll be a continual emphasis for us to be able to find that balance in the run and pass game and continue to improve in each one of them.”

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