Running lanes were hard to come by for the Browns against the Raiders, and it deeply impacted the team in a 27-20 loss Sunday.
Cleveland carried the football 14 times for 39 yards against Oakland, mustering just 2.8 yards per carry. Trailing by 17 points in the third quarter obviously shifts the strategy on offense to become pass-first, and the Browns attempted just three runs in the entire second half. Regardless, the Browns need to rediscover their running game if they want any type of consistency on offense.
A season after riding the ground game to a stunning 7-4 start, the Browns are searching for answers. Do Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson need to break more tackles? Why is the offensive line losing the battle on the line of scrimmage?
"Hard to say at this point," coach Mike Pettine said.
The Browns were hurt the most by their rushing attack on a sequence in the second quarter. A 17-yard Crowell burst to the outside had the Browns on the 1-yard line and ready to cut the lead to a 10-7 margin. Instead, Cleveland settled for a field goal and, just moments later, the Raiders took a 17-3 lead into the locker room.
Crowell was stuffed on first and third down and Cleveland committed a false start penalty when trying to go for it on fourth-down. Five plays later on the other end, Derek Carr led the Raiders to the end zone, and the direction of the game was completely shifted because the Browns couldn't punch the ball in on the 1-yard line.
"There's obviously room for improvement," center Alex Mack said.
Cleveland's offense is a different beast under John DeFilippo, but the first-year offensive coordinator kept intact many of the same running schemes from 2014. A relevant stat: The Browns were 5-1 when rushing for at least 122 yards last season and 2-8 when they did not.
In the Browns' two highest rushing outputs last season (191 yards against Pittsburgh and 176 yards against Tennessee) Cleveland operated heavily out of the no-huddle offense, a strategy it implemented at times throughout Sunday's second half.
Pettine, DeFilippo and even the football-nerd filled offensive line room will challenge themselves this week to ignite the running game. They'll think outside the box and do whatever it takes because wins and losses could very well hinge on whether Cleveland can regain its form running the football.
"It's a long season," said Mack. "We'll keep plugging away."
One name to remember is Robert Turbin. Claimed off waivers early in September from the Seattle Seahawks, the sculpted 5-foot-10, 223-pounder has been waiting his whole career to shake the shadow of Marshawn Lynch and carry the torch. He very may well be thrown right into the fray when he returns from an ankle sprain, a date that is nearing with each passing week.