PITTSBURGH -- The one positive thing from the Cleveland Browns' first half disaster against the Pittsburgh Steelers was running back Ben Tate. His six carries for 41 yards were one of few successes the entire team could hang its hat on heading into the locker room trailing 27-3.
When news struck that Tate would be out for the entire second half due to a knee injury, the Browns hopes of moving the football on offense seemed lost.
Enter Cleveland's pair of rookie running backs.
Teamed with quarterback Brian Hoyer's up-tempo pace, Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell stepped up to the plate, and then some. The Browns' rushing attack flourished in Tate's absence. West churned out 100 yards rushing on 16 carries on a stingy Steelers run defense. Even more surprising was Isaiah Crowell's two touchdowns – the latter a 15-yard, untouched dead sprint past Pittsburgh's last line of defense.
"They weren't wide-eyed," said Browns head coach Mike Pettine. "They went in there and executed."
Specifically Pettine was impressed by Crowell. Many in the media opined the undrafted rookie from Alabama State would be lucky to make the practice squad, let alone the 53-man roster. Well, in his first ever NFL game, Crowell found himself standing in the end zone (twice), with teammates heartily congratulating him with hugs.
"Crowell really was not in the game plan," said Pettine. "It was going to be Tate and West. To Crowell's credit, he prepared like the starter. He went in there and did his job."
"It was a dream come true," said Crowell of scoring his first two NFL touchdowns. "I've put in the work and I'm just thankful for the chance."
West developed a reputation in college as a running back, who no matter who he faced, could pick up yards in big chunks. That was on full display at Heinz Field on Sunday. On 16 carries, West was able to reel off runs of 29, 22, 10, nine and eight. West's penchant for blowing past the defense might've been the most impressive individual performance from the Browns.
West clearly responded to a sit down meeting he and Pettine had earlier last week. After a paltry preseason, Cleveland was open with the media in saying their plan was to pound the rock with Tate as the clear featured guy toting the rock.
In interviews, players have been unwavering in saying the Browns will be committed to the run. That prophecy came true in Pittsburgh. Cleveland's rushing attack will be the staple of this team. The Browns' 183 yards rushing was the most the team has posted since November of 2010.
Moving forward, the Browns have a good problem on their hands: three capable running backs.