The running game will be key to the Browns' success on offense this season.
BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has developed a reputation as being an unconventional play caller that loves to move the football through the air with successful quarterbacks and game-breaking wide receivers.
But at each of his stops in the NFL, most recently as the offensive coordinator in both Houston and Washington, a strong running game has set up the pass. And first-year Browns coach Mike Pettine is expecting much of the same in Cleveland this season.
"We always want to have the ability to run the football," Pettine said. "I've said that from day one. I think that's critical. Regardless of the weather, if you have a lead at the end of the game, you've got to be able to take time off the clock, and the best way to do that is running the football."
Although Shanahan helped Houston's All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson twice lead the NFL in receiving yards and the 2009 Texans to a league-best 4,654 passing yards, he also guided a young corps of running backs to success.
In 2008, Shanahan's first year as the Texans' offensive coordinator, the team rushed for 1,846 yards and a club record average of 4.3 yards per carry. That season, rookie running back Steve Slaton led all NFL rookies with 1,282 rushing yards.
Three years into his tenure as offensive coordinator of the Redskins, Shanahan led the team to unprecedented success. En route to the NFC East Division championship, the Redskins became the first team in NFL history to pass for 3,400 yards and rush for another 2,700.
With 2,709 rushing yards, the Redskins led the NFL in rushing for the first time since 1933.
Under Shanahan's direction, then rookie running back Alfred Morris rushed for 1,613 yards, the third-highest total ever by a rookie, and his 2,888 rushing yards over his first two seasons are the second-most in league history.
"It's something that we want to be the cornerstone of what we do, but at the same time, it's not going to be the focal point, but it has to be there," Pettine said. "I think that comes with having a good offensive line, that you can do both. You can protect the quarterback and run the football."
Pettine believes running the football is only part of the equation when it comes to winning within the AFC North Division. Coupled with a solid running game, Pettine wants the Browns to be known for having a great defense, something other AFC North Division teams are getting back to this season.
"When you think AFC North, that's what you think of, teams playing great defense and running the football," Pettine said. "I'd agree that in recent years, the division has gotten away from it, and I think it's easy to explain why there's some teams wanting to get back to it."