Amidst issues on the offensive line and running backs who admittedly weren't playing their best football, the Cleveland Browns still never wavered from their offensive identity during an enormous 24-3 road win against the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night.
As old-fashioned as it may be in today's pass-happy NFL, the Browns don't care: they are going to ram the football down your throat.
In Cincinnati, Cleveland rushed the football 52 times for 170 yards, withering away at what was supposed to be a strength of the Bengals team. The cards were flopped on the table. Cincinnati knew what was coming, but there was little they could do about it.
Rookie Terrance West headlined the attack on 26 carries for 94 yards and a plunging touchdown during the third quarter to put the Browns up by three touchdowns. West was patient. He used his vision. He was sly on his cutbacks. The rookie from Towson carried the torch on the night his team and city needed him the most.
"Our statement tonight: we can run the football," West said after the win. "The coaches came to us and told us it was going to come down to us. If we run the ball effectively, we are going to win. And that's what happened."
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Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery should be lauded for how they incorporated all three backs, a task that hasn't been stress-free throughout the 2014 season. Ben Tate scored the game's first touchdown, a must have seven points after a Craig Robertson interception.
"To get a touchdown out of that instead of a field goal was huge," said coach Mike Pettine. "I thought the guys grew more and more confident as the game went on, and it was a tremendous effort."
And how about Isaiah Crowell's return? After being sparsely used the last three games, the undrafted rookie filled a void with his violent, yet speedy style. Crowell's numbers weren't all that gaudy (12 carries, 41 yards) but he was a part of the well-oiled machine that was the Browns running game.
"We can play with anybody in the league," said Crowell. "We were hungry for this. I was real happy to be out there."
It would be remiss not to mention the play of the offensive line, because without them the strong day from West, Tate and Crowell isn't possible. Holes were much easier for the backs to find and the pushback the interior offensive line was getting was reminiscent of the Browns' blazing September start on the ground.
"It starts up front," Pettine explained about the rushing surge. "I have to see the film, but I thought the backs ran hard and there were holes. I thought what we were doing schematically was helpful as well."
Later in his press conference, Pettine remarked how this win was a "huge confidence boost." Had the Browns not been able to run the football like they did, the score and feeling after the game wouldn't have been as uproarious.