After years of mediocrity and false hope, the Cleveland Browns have finally discovered a winning formula on offense.
For the first time in over a decade, the Cleveland Browns have a winning formula. Whether or not they’ll stick to the plan is still up in the air, but there’s an excellent chance Kevin Stefanski’s 4-1 team makes the playoffs. Cleveland hasn’t made the postseason since 2002, but a firm dedication to the running game has the once hopeless franchise looking like a top-10 team.
The Browns have the NFL’s top rushing attack this season, piling up 188.4 yards per game on the ground. Nick Chubb opened the year by averaging 97 rushing yards in his first three games. Even when the budding superstar suffered an MCL sprain in Week 4, Cleveland’s offense didn’t falter. Kareem Hunt picked up where his teammate left off and he has averaged 71 rushing yards during the past two weeks.
The Browns’ only loss this season came against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 1. Baltimore’s stout defense limited Cleveland to 138 rushing yards on 27 carries. However, Stefanski’s team abandoned the running game too soon as Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield finished the matchup with 39 pass attempts and a 65.0 passer rating.
Cleveland Browns must stick with their successful rushing attack
This past week, the Browns almost lost to the Indianapolis Colts. If not for Philip Rivers gift-wrapping Cleveland’s defense two interceptions, the Browns would’ve come up short. Mayfield attempted 37 passes and he threw two interceptions of his own while the offense only ran 33 times. Twenty of those carries went to Hunt.
With how Mayfield has played during the last year, it’s time for Cleveland to de-emphasize the passing game and become a run-first offense. Maybe Stefanski had some grand plans for what he could do with Mayfield, but the Browns are much better when the unpredictable former first overall pick attempts fewer passes during a game.
In Cleveland’s wins over Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, and Washington Football Team this season, Mayfield attempted a total of 76 passes (roughly 25 per contest). It resulted in him generating 540 yards, six touchdowns, and just one interception. Meanwhile, the Browns racked up 112 carries (about 37 per game) and 608 rushing yards. Cleveland won these games by a combined 30 points.
In Weeks 1 and 4, Mayfield attempted 76 passes (38 per game), resulting in 436 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions. Stefanski’s offense ran 60 times in those games, with Chubb only getting 10 carries in Week 1. Outside of his injury-shortened Week 4, that’s the fewest rushes Chubb has posted in a matchup since Week 17 of his rookie season. The Browns finished those games with a -23 point differential.
Cleveland is averaging 5.5 yards per carry this season. The Browns shouldn’t turn back to featuring Mayfield, Odell Beckham, and Jarvis Landry as the offense’s focal point if that rushing average holds up. While the modern NFL places a heavy emphasis on passing for over 4,000 yards per year, Mayfield isn’t playing well enough to justify giving him 500 pass attempts this year.
Winning by running the ball isn’t a new concept. Last season, the NFL’s top four rushing teams (Baltimore, San Francisco, Tennessee, and Seattle) made the playoffs and all four of those teams at least made it to the divisional round. San Francisco and Tennessee went further, making the Super Bowl and AFC Championship respectively.
In an era defined by quarterbacks, the Browns must resist betting games on Mayfield’s arm. Instead, Cleveland should trust its rushing attack. When healthy, Chubb and Hunt are two of the NFL’s premier running backs and easily the league’s best backfield duo. If the Browns limit Mayfield to around 25 passes per game and run between 35 to 40 times per week, they could finally make the playoffs again.