The Divisional Round of the 2014 NFL Playoffs is done. The Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers have all advanced to the Conference Championship games next week, for a right to go to the Super Bowl. Over the next couple days FoS will look at these 4 teams on what the Cleveland Browns can learn from the best teams in the game. We started today with the quarterback position that you can check out here. Now on to the running back position.
The Browns do not have a starting running back, that much was clear even before the Trent Richardson trade. Whether Richardson is successful with the Colts in the future is no indication that he would of seen that improvement in Cleveland. Being traded early in your second season, after being drafted #3 overall, could be a huge motivator that would not of been true with the Browns. In the division round the 4 winning teams give some credence to the important of one ball dominant running back, lets look at their stats:
Knowshon Moreno - 23 carries, 82 yards and 1 TD
Marshawn Lynch - 28 carries, 140 yards and 2 TDs
Legarrette Blount - 24 carries, 166 yards and 4 TDs
Frank Gore - 17 carries and 84 yards
The lowest rushing attempts total for the winning teams was 17 carries by Gore who is the oldest of all 4 running backs at the age of 30. He was backed up by 9 carries by Kendall Hunter. Remembering that only the Colts/Patriots game was a blow out this was not an example of teams just running out the clock, instead the teams used their running games to win the game. While we talked about the impact of the quarterbacks, it was the solid running games that buttressed the teams’ offenses. Lets look at the 4 losing teams stats now:
Danny Woodhead - 9 carries and 29 yards
Khiry Robinson - 13 carries, 57 yards and 1 TD
Donald Brown - 17 carries and 63 yards
Mike Tolbert - 8 carries and 20 yards
Its important to note that Ryan Matthews, the primary running back for the Chargers, was injured and the Saints use multiple backs, with Mark Ingram toting the rock 10 times in their game. Tolbert, generally a hybrid fullback, actually had less carries then their QB Cam Newton, 10 carries to 8. Brown tied Gore’s load with 17 carries in a game that got out of hand in the second half, yet the Colts still used the running game as a primary part of their offense. Keeping balance is important for teams. A healthy Matthews could of made a huge difference for the Chargers.
For the Browns
The Browns front office has shown interest in a number of smaller backs, starting with Dion Lewis and including Edwin Baker, but should look to find a back that can carry the load. A back that can take 20 carries a game and put up a quality yards per carry is a necessity even in the current NFL, “a passing league.” Without the threat of a running game play action pass doesn’t work. Without a solid running game on 1st and 2nd downs the offense can often struggle with long 3rd downs to convert, leading to many 3 and outs.
This could lead to a back like Ben Tate, oft rumored to the Browns as a free agent this off-season, or a more bruising back in the draft. While many Ohio Browns fans would love to see Carlos Hyde, this front office may not value RB enough to draft him high in the second round, where he is projected to go. Falling to the 3rd, or trading a bit up into the late 2nd for Hyde or another back is more likely then taking him with any of the Browns first 3 picks.
As you watched the games last weekend did it make you long for a bell cow running back for your Browns? Is there someone you think will fit best with the team? Do you think the Front Office will invest in the position at all? If so, at what level?