Carlos Hyde knew the Browns running game had to get off to a good start Friday.
After a disappointing performance in last week's win over the Giants, the stable of Browns running backs — and the offensive linemen who pave the way — needed a bounce-back game. Hyde's first carry went for 3 yards, his second for 9. Then, the big play happened.
Hyde bounced outside on a run designed to the inside, taking the carry around the right side. He was met by Bills defensive back Jordan Poyer, but it wasn't an issue. Hyde shoved Poyer to the turf with a stiff arm and rumbled for 26 yards. The tone was set. The Browns trio of Hyde, Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson ran for 144 yards and two touchdowns in their 19-17 loss to the Bills at FirstEnergy Stadium.
"This week we just put more emphasis on it," Hyde said of the run game. "Our mindset going into this game was to get the run game going. The O-Line did a great job creating some lanes for me to run through, allowing me to make plays."
Hyde and Johnson teamed up for 63 yards rushing on Cleveland's opening drive, including Hyde's 4-yard dash to the pylon to add seven points on the board. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley's offense is predicated on the ground-game, and the Browns established it early.
The offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage from the first snap, and Hyde's job was made easy. Of course in the preseason opener, the first-team offense only played eight snaps. Sometimes, it's hard to get into a rhythm with a lack of plays. But Hyde didn't need many to find himself comfortable behind the linemen against the Bills.
"I had the rhythm going after the third one," Hyde said. "Honestly, I don't really know. You can't put a number on it."
It seemed as though a rhythm wouldn't come anytime soon against the Giants. Make no mistake, the Browns aren't making excuses for their running woes last week. But Kevin Zeitler still isn't playing. Austin Corbett is a rookie at left guard. Joel Bitonio is playing left tackle for the first time since college. Growing pains happen. They just needed improvement, and that's what they saw.
Corbett could sense the comfort in the run game against Buffalo. After all, he entered Friday's game with NFL experience, albeit one game. Corbett also sensed progress; he's tough on himself in the film room and holds himself to a high standard.
"My wife can tell you, I'm the hardest one on me, for sure," Corbett said. "I go back and watch the tape. Regardless of if we win or lose, I'm hard on myself, and I want to make sure I'm doing the best I can to help my team."
He was on the field for the vast majority of the 164 rushing yards Cleveland compiled, working with both the first- and second-team offense for a second consecutive week. He might not have shown his best but he's not supposed to. It's the preseason. Where the Browns excelled in running the ball, they digressed through the air.
Browns coach Hue Jackson knows in this league to take the good with the bad. As good as the run game looked, the pass game was lagging. It was an opposite outcome last week, when the Browns threw the ball at will, but couldn't muster yards on the ground.
"The runners made some good runs, strong runs – all three of them really," Jackson said. "The line did a better job of pushing and getting after it. This past week, we did a great job emphasizing some things and got better. Obviously, the first week the pass game was clicking. This week, our running game was going. Now, we have to put it together where we get offensively where it is both run and pass complementing each other."
Corbett's coming into his own along the line, Hyde's pummeling opponents to the grass, Chubb and Johnson are running the way a Todd Haley offense was built to. On Friday, the Browns had reason to feel good about running the football again.
"It's exciting to see everyone get going," Hyde said.