Earlier this season, Browns coach Hue Jackson spoke of a re-commitment to a rushing attack that showed promise the year before.
But with two games left in 2017, Jackson admitted they haven’t been able to execute that plan quite like they hoped this past offseason.
“It hasn’t worked out that way,” he said Friday. “I thought that we would be able to be in games a little closer than what we have been.”
Jackson took ownership of that dynamic as the Browns travel to Chicago in search of their first win. They hope the unit — which has demonstrated improvement in the second half of the season — finishes this year on a high note, starting against the Bears this weekend.
Between running backs Isaiah Crowell, the multitalented Duke Johnson and rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, Cleveland averages 110 yards per game. While that figure ranks 17th in the NFL, Jackson said the Browns haven’t been able to lean on the unit consistently partly because of slow starts.
“We get behind, and I hate to say it – I’m just being very honest – I think sometimes I have gotten away from it a little too quickly,” he said, “but there are times where in order to score points, the fastest way to get there is throwing the football. It’s more pass plays that give you more chunk yardage then there are runs.”
Indeed, Cleveland has struggled to hold or maintain leads this season. Their biggest advantage — a 14-point edge — came two weeks ago against Green Bay. More often than not, however, the Browns find themselves playing a game of catch up because of turnovers and other dynamics.
In June, the Browns were optimistic they’d be buoyed by a run game that averaged 158 yards in the final four games of 2016. They also fortified their interior offensive line by signing right guard Kevin Zeitler and center JC Tretter in free agency.
After some growing pains and the loss of Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, the group has eclipsed the 130-yard mark four times in the past six weeks.
Jackson hopes that trend continues.
“I understand the criticism. We have run the ball better over the last five or six weeks. We'll continue to do so. Hopefully, we will finish the year running the ball better,” he said.
“I think we started way low in the National Football League running. I think we’re making a jump. Now, we just have to keep going.”