The running game has certainly been de-emphasized in today’s NFL.
It used to be a tenet about good teams that they had to be able to run the ball and also be able to stop the run.
Earlier this week, Browns’ All Pro OT Joe Thomas scoffed about his team’s lack of a running game, saying something to the effect that it really isn’t important anymore.
Is he correct?
We looked at the top 10 rushing teams in the league this year and found more teams that are winning than losing.
The top two rushing teams to this point are Washington, who led the league last season and are currently sitting at 3-6 on the season after last night’s loss to Minnesota, and Philadelphia who are 4-5 on the 2013 campaign.
That certainly supports Thomas’ opinion that the ground game isn’t a prerequisite for winning.
However, looking at the rest of the top ten shows the following teams: Seattle (8-1), San Francisco (6-2), Green Bay (5-3), New England (7-2), New York Jets (5-4), and Kansas City (9-0).
Notice that several of those squads also have Pro Bowl caliber quarterbacks in Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, a possible future Hall of Famer in Aaron Rodgers, and a definite enshrinee in Canton in Tom Brady.
The other two teams among the leaders are Buffalo (3-6) and Oakland (3-5). Thus, six of the ten having winning records.
Conversely, the worst running teams in the NFL shows only two teams with a winning record: New Orleans (6-2) and Dallas (5-4).
Atlanta (2-6) is the worst team in the NFL on the ground, followed by the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars at 0-8.
The Giants (2-6), the Ravens (3-5) and Pittsburgh (2-6) round out the top five.
So, what we can conclude is that you have a better chance of being successful if you can run the ball, which when you think about it, isn’t really a change in conventional wisdom.
That brings us to Thomas’ team, the Cleveland Browns, who rank 25th in the NFL in rushing.
A closer look shows that coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator have had to be very creative in getting some of the yards on the ground the Browns have accumulated.
The trick/gadget plays used by Turner have accounted for 15% of Cleveland’s running game. That would include reverses by WRs Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin, plays out of the wildcat formation by MarQueis Gray, and the fake punt by Josh Aubrey that went for 34 yards.
Taking away those eight plays would lower the Browns’ average yards per carry by a half yard (3.7 to 3.2), and the latter figure would rank third worst in the National Football League.
The flaw in Thomas’ logic is that if you are a good team, a winning team, you have to be able to run the football to protect leads. In reality, the Browns were lucky to be able to burn over six minutes off the clock last Sunday in the victory over Baltimore.
As the weather conditions at home get more severe, the ability to run the football will become more and more important.
That’s why the front office needs to do something during the bye week to improve this aspect of the game.
If the Browns want to be a winning team, perhaps one that can make the playoffs, they have to be able to run the ball, particularly late in games.
A majority of the good teams in the NFL can do just that.