One of the great football quotes of all time belongs to former Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints coach Bum Phillips talking about Don Shula.
Phillips said something to the effect that Shula can take his team and beat yours, and he can take your team and beat his. We are paraphrasing slightly.
The point is that Shula looked at the talent on hand and made a game plan that fit the talent.
To put it even simpler, he didn’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole.
That’s a weakness of many coaches, and Browns’ coach Pat Shurmur is one of them.
So is his mentor, Philadelphia Eagles’ coach Andy Reid.
Both guys want to throw the football, even when they should be running the ball. Sometimes they just aren’t patient enough. The Browns’ opener against the Eagles shouldn’t have been close, but Reid refused to give the ball to LeSean McCoy, who Cleveland couldn’t stop.
For example, let’s look at last Sunday’s game against the Giants.
After the Browns took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, New York’s next 10 plays went as follows: run, pass, run, run, pass, pass, pass, run, run, pass.
That’s a 50/50 split between running the ball and throwing it.
Granted, it was the first quarter and there was plenty of time for the Giants to get back in the football game.
When New York scored early in the second have to increase their lead to 17 points at 34-17, here are the next ten plays used by the Browns: pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, run, pass, pass, pass.
That would be nine out of ten plays throwing the football, keeping in mind the Browns best offensive player is Trent Richardson.
To be fair, a few of those passes were to Richardson, but at the end of those ten plays, there were still almost 10 minutes left in the game and Cleveland had shaved the deficit to two touchdowns.
Certainly there should be a sense of urgency, but it shouldn’t involve a total dismissal of the running game.
Let’s look at 2011. In the opener against Cincinnati, which wound up being a 10 point loss, the Browns threw 40 times and ran just 26 times.
Game Rushes Passes
Cincinnati (L 17-27) 26 40
Indianapolis (W 27-19) 34 32
Miami (W 17-16) 19 39
Tennessee (L 13-31) 22 61
Oakland (L 17-24) 21 45
Seattle (W 6-3) 45 35
San Francisco (L 10-20) 23 34
Houston (L 12-30) 21 22
St. Louis (L 12-13) 30 27
Jacksonville (w 14-10) 28 24
Cincinnati (L 20-23) 30 34
Baltimore (L 10-24) 17 36
Pittsburgh (L 3-14) 30 36
Arizona (L 17-20) 29 31
Baltimore (L 14-20) 25 33
Pittsburgh (L 9-13) 15 41
This year, Brandon Weeden is second in the NFL in passes attempted through five weeks.
While you can certainly understand throwing the football a lot when you are behind, you can plainly see there weren’t too many games when the Browns were out of it from the get go.
They threw the ball 20 more times than ran in a one point WIN against Miami. There were 24 more throws than runs in a seven point loss to Oakland.
Browns quarterbacks threw it 19 times more than they handed off in a six point loss to the Ravens, and a greater disparity was shown in a four point defeat against the Steelers.
You can understand the affinity for the pass last season because Peyton Hillis was injured, but this year, the Browns have Trent Richardson and an offensive line which features two first round picks and Pro Bowlers in Joe Thomas and Alex Mack, a second round pick in Mitchell Schwartz, and two other young guards in Jason Pinkston and Shaun Lauvao.
The running game should be the strength of the team, right now the coaching staff doesn’t realize it.
Yes, the NFL is a passing league and throwing the football is the “sexy” thing to do. Fans watch games and think “why don’t they throw every time?”
But the name of the game is winning and to do that, you need to use your best players and weapons.
Right now, the Cleveland Browns should be looking to run the ball more often and more effectively.