Punch Drunk Wonderland

What Happened to the Cleveland Browns’ Rushing Attack?

For the first half of the 2014 season the Cleveland Browns had one of the top rushing games in the league behind three versatile running backs. It seemed that it didn’t matter whether it was Ben Tate, Terrance West, or Isaiah Crowell running, the job on the ground was getting done with great success. In recent weeks the pecking order has been shaken up in terms of the backs and the production has lulled. What’s going on with the Browns’ rushing attack and what should we expect to finish out the season? Our friends at numberFire.com have taken a look at that very question.

After a Week 6 game against Pittsburgh, Cleveland’s rushing attack ranked seventh in the NFL according to our metrics. Today, just three games later, the Browns come in at 25th.

I thought a drop off like that could only come in the form of Kirk Cousins, but the Browns are proving me wrong. With an Adjusted Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) score of -11.96, Cleveland’s played roughly 20 points below expectation on the ground over the last three weeks, becoming one of the worst running offenses in the league.

What happened?

The Secret World of Alex Mack

I can’t tell you how excited I am to finally use this subhead. Unfortunately, it comes at the expense of an Alex Mack – not the Nickelodeon one – broken leg.

The Browns’ center had surgery on said leg after the team’s contest against Pittsburgh, so he’s naturally not been playing since Week 6. You may claim this is a correlation does not imply causation issue, but there’s no doubt that Mack’s absence has played some sort of role, as the Browns have dropped 18 slots in rushing offense rank since he went down.

You could argue, too, that the play-calling has been more pass-heavy over their last three games. Take a look at the chart below noting the pass attempts versus running back rush attempts for Cleveland this season.

Pass Attempts RB Rush Attempts Pass-to-Run
Week 1 30 27 1.11
Week 2 40 30 1.33
Week 3 25 23 1.09
Week 5 37 35 1.06
Week 6 17 37 0.46
Week 7 41 28 1.46
Week 8 28 23 1.22
Week 9 34 25 1.36

These raw numbers aren’t the end-all to this argument. Teams will often flip play-calling tendencies due to inefficiencies – if they’re not running the ball effectively, coaches aren’t going to tirelessly keep pounding the rock, and vice versa.

That’s where I think this discussion gets interesting. We know that Mack being out of the lineup hasn’t been a good thing for Cleveland, but there are countless factors that can contribute to less success.

How about – I don’t know – quarterback Brian Hoyer?

Through the first six weeks (five games) of the season, Hoyer was playing well. Over the last three weeks, Hoyer’s been more Gabbert-like than arguably any other signal-caller in the league.

Continue reading at numberFire.com… (@numberfire)



K. Smelser About K. Smelser
Kelly Smelser is Owner/Senior Writer for Punch Drunk Wonderland and PDFantasy Sports. Architect of the PDW fantasy football world and general spinster of NFL and Fantasy Football news and analysis. Long walks on the beach, sunsets, and other such niceties are also fine...