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Browns run game the backbone to best offensive balance of season

Duke Johnson Jr. let the evidence speak for itself.

After a day in which the Browns ran for a season-high 230 yards -- the most in five years -- the rookie running back was asked why the team stuck with the run from start to finish against the 49ers. Johnson smiled and looked at the guy one locker to his left.

"(Isaiah) Crowell had two 50-yard runs," Johnson said. "It is hard to pull away from something that is working so well. We stayed in coach's ear and told him don't worry we got it, and to put the game in our hands."

Crowell's runs of 50 and 54 yards, both of which preceded short touchdown runs of his, accounted for a little less than half of the Browns' 230 rushing yards. The total surpassed Cleveland's previous season high by 114 yards and snapped a string of six consecutive games of fewer than 100.

Both Crowell (145) and Johnson (78) notched career highs on a day that saw the Browns play with a lead from the 5:38 mark in the first quarter all the way to the end.

"It was just getting a rhythm. It was being able to get into the flow of the game," Crowell said. "The offensive line did a great job, and the receivers were blocking downfield. It was all great."

Browns coach Mike Pettine described it as "the ideal way to win a football game offensively." Crowell and Johnson certainly agreed, and their performance had a big impact on quarterback Johnny Manziel, who played a solid game and made the most of his play-action opportunities. The Browns passed for 270 yards.

Pettine said the Browns liked their matchup against the 49ers' run defense, which ranks 31st in the NFL. In their previous three road games, the 49ers surrendered 197, 255 and 170 rushing yards, respectively. If the Browns, ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing offense, were ever going to have a breakout game, it was going to be Sunday.

But as Pettine stressed during his post-game press conference, the X's and O's only went so far. It took one of the best efforts of the season from everyone involved to make it happen.

"The drawings on paper only go so far. The guys executed," Pettine said. "I thought we blocked well. I thought our backs ran hard. They kind of set the tempo. First couple runs of the game, they weren't blocked for much. They were breaking tackles and our guys ran hard."

Even the runs that didn't go for 50 and 54 yards were productive, as the Browns had just one go for negative yardage -- an 8-yard loss by Glenn Winston that resulted in a fumble. That kind of production on first and second down made for a surplus of third-and-manageables.

Of Cleveland's 12 third downs, only five were 7 yards or longer. The Browns converted 6-of-12 in what was easily the most balanced offensive performance of the season.

"When you rush for 200 yards, it's hard to lose," offensive tackle Joe Thomas said. "You've got to do some really bad things to lose a game when you have 200 yards rushing. We didn't do those things. You make it so hard on the defense when you're running the ball effectively. They really have to overcommit to stopping the run, and it just opens the pass game wide open."

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