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Browns seeking running-game redemption over final 2 games


One day later, the chorus didn't change. If anything, it grew louder.

With the majority of questions he faced Monday focused on Duke Johnson Jr., Browns coach Mike Pettine put even more emphasis on his assessment of the offense as a whole. At one point, he joked Browns legend Brian Sipe wouldn't have been able to succeed in a similar scenario.

"It's just across the board," Pettine said. "We have to find a way. We've lost something, and we need to take this week and find it."

The numbers, particularly when it centers on the Browns' suddenly stagnant running game, back Pettine up in a big way.

When the Browns run the ball well, more often than not, they win. The team has rushed for an average of 126.1 yards in its seven wins and 93.1 in its seven losses. During this recent three-game skid, Cleveland has averaged a little more than 80 yards on the ground. The Browns have just two wins when they run for fewer than 100 yards and two losses when they clear the century mark.

The Browns' longest rush Sunday against the Bengals came from Manziel, who went 10 yards on a third-quarter scramble. Of the team's five first downs, only one came via a rush.

Pettine singled out right tackle Mitchell Schwartz's run blocking as one of the few pluses to take away from the game, but it takes all five up front to create the proper running lanes.

"We didn't do our job as an offensive line to help (Manziel). This is not all on his shoulders," right guard John Greco said. "There are 11 guys on the field, and we obviously fell short. We have to do more to get him out of those holes."

Since Ben Tate was released in mid-November, rookie running backs Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West have shared all of the carries out of the backfield. Crowell has 50 carries for 188 yards and three touchdowns while West has 41 for 171.

Both have been tasked with overcoming adversity. In West's case, it was a costly fumble against Buffalo that Pettine called "inexcusable" while Crowell has battled a lingering hip injury.

"I know he looked better as the week went on," Pettine said of Crowell, who has been limited in practice over the past two weeks. "You can tell early in the week he was still bothered by it. I don't know how much of it was a factor in the game."

Manziel's presence, in theory, was anticipated to inject some life into the running game because of his ability to keep defenses off balance with his scrambling threat. With buzz about Manziel running the zone-read much like Robert Griffin III did under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in Washington, the Browns wound up running the play only a handful of times with minimal success.

Pettine said a number of the plays that appeared to be zone-read Sunday were actually pre-designed runs.

"There was not a dramatic change in what we're doing schematically," Pettine said. "We're still zone blocking for the most part, pass protections didn't change. It's not that we shifted gears in such a way that we asked the offensive line to go from running the run-shoot to running the wishbone. It was still, conceptually, everything that we've been doing."

Manziel, who ran for 2,169 yards over two seasons at Texas A&M, didn't find many opportunities to use his feet against the Bengals. Outside of his 10-yard run, Manziel was able to gain just 3 more yards on four plays that were considered rush attempts.

Asked if there was a concerted effort to keep Manziel in the pocket, Pettine gave credit to the Bengals for minimizing what the rookie does best. The Browns have two more chances for running-game redemption with their first coming Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.

"We've got to find a way to bounce back," Pettine said. "This isn't Major League Baseball where we've got 162 opportunities. We've got two left out of 16, and no one is more important, no one is more meaningful than the one this weekend."

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