By Tony Grossi
Extra Points …
Cut and dried: The strategy for the Browns to beat the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday seems too obvious and too logical to dismiss.
* Fact: Trent Richardson is coming off career highs in rushing attempts (24) and yards (122). He accomplished that against the No. 1-ranked San Diego rush defense and with sore ribs, which, presumably, are better now.
* Fact: The once-proud Baltimore defense is in shambles and has sunk to levels not seen since the Ravens became consistent playoff contenders. The Ravens have fallen to 30th against the run overall, yielding an astounding 207 rushing yards per game over their last three games.
* Fact: While weather forecasts call for improvement over cold, slop and wind that befell the area since last Sunday’s game, nothing is guaranteed this time of year off Lake Erie to encourage throwing the ball as a means to winning.
So the conclusion to draw is the Browns will pound Richardson through the Ray Lewis-less Ravens defense and ride his short, muscled legs to a third home victory in a row.
But as ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso says, “Not so fast, my friend.”
Red flags: Every time I want to believe the Browns will turn the offense over to Richardson and their offensive line, I hear things that change my mind.
Like this from coach Pat Shurmur on Monday, the day after the 7-6 win over San Diego in severe conditions:
“For people that like watching defensive football, people who like seeing the ball run, I hope you had a good Sunday. I sure would like to be able to score more points, but to score one more than they did is important because we all know it’s about winning.”
And this from Shurmur on Thursday:
“I would love to pound it. I would love to be able to pound it and score points. To be able to do that I think is great and we’re all sitting in our kitchen by 5 o’clock. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to score points. I’ve said this often, that Trent needs to be involved. That means you can throw it to him, you can hand it to him and you’ve got to do what you think is best to move the football. We all know that involves some sort of balance, which means you run the football some and sometimes more than others, sometimes less than others, but you’ve got to try what you can to score points.”
And this from offensive coordinator Brad Childress on Thursday:
“I think you’d always like to be able to run the football. Whether it’s that number (24 times) or not – could be higher, could be lower, depending on how you’re moving it that day.”
And finally this, again from Childress:
“You’d like to have some more explosive plays – for us it’s a run of 12 (yards) or a pass of 16. If you can incorporate some of those things in a drive your scoring chances goes up into the 80 percentile. So we’re always looking for those shots at explosive plays.”
I just don’t feel the top two men running the Browns’ offense fully embrace the concept of running the ball as a means of taking control of a game. I have the feeling Shurmur’s idea of balance is throwing 25 times in the first half to build a two-score lead and then running 25 times in the second half to ice it.
The balancing act continues: On the only two occasions – out of eight games – in which the Browns have run more than they’ve passed, weather elements dictated play-selection. These happen to be the last two wins, at home.
Against Cincinnati, temperatures were 70 degrees at kickoff, but winds were measured at 19 mph with gusts exceeding 30 mph. Even still, Shurmur dialed up more passes than runs in the first half and trailed at halftime, 14-7.
(Two notes here: 1. Richardson was obviously not himself from the start and the running game was faltering. 2. The lone score in the first half came on a long pass to Josh Gordon, which Gordon hauled in after the wind blew the ball downward at the last moment).
Against San Diego, with rain falling throughout and gusts up to 40 mph, Richardson’s 26-yard TD on the first drive stood as the game-winner. But that only came after two Weeden throws slipped out of his hand and caused misfires for Ben Watson and Gordon.
Ultimately, the Browns called 33 runs and 27 passes – their most lopsided run-pass ratio of the year.
I’d like to think we’ll see more of that. Just to help it along, I wouldn’t mind seeing the weather stay nasty for Sunday. A mild and sunny day might mean too much throwing against a run defense that looks ripe for the ripping.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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