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Time for Brownsto abandon the Stefanski run-first approach

We are more than a little concerned about Deshaun Watson, but Nick Chubb is not available, so there is no choice but to go all in for the vertical passing game that Watson has been seeking, and the run-first Stefanski offense must be put to bed for the balance of 2023. There is nothing wrong with the two-tight end formation or running behind a 300 pound fullback, but there actually has to be a star running bac to make it work. Maybe the Browns can put something together over the course of the season but they definitely do not have it right now. So let’s dust off some of the run-n-shoot plays and five wide receiver sets and really open up the passing game, because there is no other choice. The Browns must become a vertical passing team because the running game is just not there to bail them out.

It’s not that the run-first offense is a bad idea. For example, when Nick Chubb was on the team running behind Jack Conklin at right tackle with Nick Harris at fullback and two tight ends, that was going to be nearly unstoppable. But the Browns have to face facts. Thus far, Jerome Ford is averaging 3.41 yards per carry for his pro career. Kareem Hunt is hoping to reignite his career after a poor 2022 season when his yards per carry average dipped to 3.80 yards per carry. Jack Conklin is also on IR. Both Cleveland tackles–Jones and Jedrick Wills–rank near the bottom of the NFL in term of run blocking effectiveness according to Pro Football Focus. The passing game carries significant uncertainties, but right now the running game is a death trap.

Pierre Strong, Jr. has 23 carries over the past two seasons for 177 yards, for 7.70 yards per carry. However, only 13 of those carries were for the Browns. It’s too early to assume he is the stud the Browns need to operate those run-first plays. Let’s check back at mid-season, but the Browns would be foolish to game plan around a player who has 13 carries for the season.

The Browns do seem to be trying to adjust. We saw Deshaun come alive versus Tennessee in the second half after a shaky first half. Versus Baltimore, they ran only 38.5% of the time. However, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, in his first NFL start, did put the ball in the air, but struggled in his execution. This was disappointing, but he too will have to learn to survive without a strong running game this season. No, we’re pushing all the chips to the center of the table and betting on a downfield passing offense this season, hopefully led by a healthy and engaged Watson.

We also learned from Baltimore that opposing defenses are not going to respect the run against Cleveland anymore. They are ignoring the run-pass option (RPO) and instead are just going in for the kill versus the quarterback. They know the running back is not a threat. So, get used to seeing Watson line up in the spread formation and throw to the first open receiver in under 2.5 seconds, or however long it takes Jed Wills to exchange pleasantries with the opposing defense’s right defensive end, whichever comes first. The Browns’ halfback had better be able to pass block and catch screen passes coming out of the backfield and gain positive yardage in short yardage situations. But don’t expect very many 100 rushing yard games this season.




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