CLEVELAND -- Since the start of the offseason program back in April, Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson has talked about the importance of having a strong running game to complement the passing attack.
And heading into today’s regular-season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium, the emphasis on an impactful running game is of utmost importance.
“Absolutely, you would like to establish the run early by being physical,” running backs coach Kirby Wilson said.
“That is how you gain control of the line of scrimmage from the start. That will be a big test for us starting in this game on Sunday afternoon is establishing our dominance at the line of scrimmage and how we go about doing our work for the entire day.”
A productive running game is of even more importance for the Browns, as they will start a rookie quarterback, DeShone Kizer, against the Steelers.
Through the first three games of the preseason, Kizer completed 25 of his 49 attempts for 351 yards and one touchdown against two interceptions. Despite completing just 51 percent of his passes, Kizer averaged 7.2 yards per attempt, the best of all Browns quarterbacks this preseason.
“It is always the focal point of any gameplan,” Wilson said. “You would like to establish the run and control the line of scrimmage early, and this game will be no different. We have to be very efficient with what we are doing. That doesn’t necessarily mean we have to run it a whole lot, but we have to be efficient when we do.”
Last year, Isaiah Crowell rushed for 952 yards and seven touchdowns on 198 carries over 16 games for a Browns team that saw six players take snaps at quarterback because of injuries and ineffective play. Also, Crowell caught 40 passes for 319 yards and 14 first downs.
In addition to Crowell, the Browns are going to utilize the skills of the 5-foot-9, 210-pound Duke Johnson.
In two years out of the University of Miami (Florida), Johnson has rushed for 737 yards and one touchdown on 177 carries, as well as turned 114 catches into 1,048 yards and two scores.
“You would like to think going into a game, when you have established veteran playmakers that the opposing team has to say, ‘Hey, we have to stop A, B and C’ in terms of your run game,” Wilson said. “For us, we are fortunate enough to have two of them that are not only very good runners, but they are very capable pass receivers, as well.”
In order to remain committed to the running game, Wilson knows the Browns must “convert third downs and maintain possession of the football” against the Steelers.
“That will help our run game, not only in their opportunity in attempts and the amount that we do, but it also will establish the thing that we have been talking about, and that is controlling the line of scrimmage and becoming a dominant run team that leans on the running game for success,” Wilson said. “Third down is going to be big for us.”