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Browns see opportunity for run game to be variable and effective

GM Andrew Berry still confident in the talent of their running back room

Running back article

Through the first four weeks of the regular season, the Browns know they can be better offensively. That's why Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry was looking forward to using the bye week to return to their level of consistency and standard they've set offensively.

And while they hold that overarching ideal for their offense, they know specifically there are improvements to be had in the success of their run game.

"Yeah, we can be better, obviously," HC Kevin Stefanski said on Monday. "I trust in the guys we have. I trust in the scheme, those types of things. We're four games into the season, so it's an incomplete sample size to draw a ton from it, but we can better. We will be."

The Browns have 575 rushing yards on the season on 131 carries, and average 4.4 yards per rush attempt. Over four games, they average 143.8 rushing yards per game and have three rushing touchdowns this season.

The season-ending injury to RB Nick Chubb shifted the roles of their running backs. Jerome Ford moved into a new role and became the feature back. The Browns signed RB Kareem Hunt to add depth to their backfield and bring in another option for their run game. They also have used second-year player Pierre Strong Jr., WR Elijah Moore and TE Harrison Bryant as other options to run the ball.

The offense took other hits with injuries, losing RT Jack Conklin and inserting rookie RT Dawand Jones into the offensive line in Week 2. And their success in the run game changed.

In Week 3 against the Titans, the Browns only rushed for 78 net yards, and turned to more of their passing game to claim the 27-3 win. Then in Week 4 matchup against the Ravens, the Browns struggled again to advance the ball downfield through the run game. They rushed for 93 net yards.

"I think that missing 24 is a big deal to that," RG Wyatt Teller said on Monday. "He's the human eraser, as we like to call him. Damn good player. So, we got to be able to run without one of the best running backs in the league. It's not easy. It's a good front. Even though they were banged up, the scheme is good. Those linebackers are unbelievable. So, we had to run the ball well early. When you don't do that and you get behind, it's hard to just be able to run the ball. I know that's what a lot of people say, and a lot of couch coaching would say, but it's not that easy. You got to be able to pass effectively, run effectively, and if you can't do that, then it's going to end up like yesterday."

Check out the best photos from the Browns game against the Ravens by the Browns photo team

Some of the issues in the run game came from the blocking, as LG Joel Bitonio noted following Sunday's loss. Teller agreed with Bitonio.

"We got to be able to execute," Teller said. "If we can execute, then execute your one-on-ones. Be able to make someone miss. And that's what makes Nick (Chubb) you know so prized, is that he can make one guy miss, and even if you're not know, he can make it right. And he's awfully missed, but we got to be able to do it without him."

The Browns have also faced some tough run defenses in the first four weeks of the season. But their success in the run game affects their ability as an offense to also have success in the passing game.

"To be able to pass effectively, being third and manageable, we got to be able to run the ball and run the ball early. It's something that weren't able to do yesterday," Teller said. "So, we got to be able to run the ball early and often, and whenever given the opportunity to make a big play, we got to take it. So, execute on their mistakes. Every team makes a mistake. Like I said, if 70 plays and one guy misses on a play, you got to be able to make one guy miss and make plays. But again, I'm not throwing the ball in the NFL. It is crazy difficult. I could not imagine. I just have to block the big guys who are trying to rip off their heads. And if I can do that, then I'm doing my part. And if we all do our part, our one-11th, we'll be all right."

The Browns have the personnel to have success in the run game, though. Berry said that they view their running back room more as a group and not necessarily a strict first and second guy.

Ford has shown over the first two weeks as their starting running back that he can move the ball and be effective in the run game. Berry has been impressed with Ford's early-season performances, and said they've seen how Ford can provide big play ability, and how he can use his speed and strength as an asset. They also believe his ability to split out and run routes is a unique skill set that they can utilize.

They can continue to ramp up Hunt and use him as an option in the coming weeks following the bye week. Strong has also demonstrated how he can also add depth and other strong options in the run game, like with his 40-yard run against the Ravens in the fourth quarter.

As the Browns head into the remainder of the season, Berry said when it comes to the run game, they have to be variable and adapt to their opponent. The first four weeks showcased that variability, with how they looked in the game against the Bengals and Steelers, and the changes they had to make against the Titans with their strong run front. Against Tennessee, the Browns tried more of a perimeter game, and then switched to the passing game.

Overall, Berry said he is pleased with their running back room. They know the importance of using their backs and establishing the run game. Now, the Browns use their bye week to reset and make those adjustments for the rest of the season.