All four teams in the AFC North require a strong running game to survive. The Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens, and Pittsburgh Steelers do not have the luxury of warm weather, a domed stadium or a retractable roof. The severe winter weather makes passing the ball a real chore to say the least.
The Browns did not survive because they lacked a balanced offense. The Browns ran for an average of 86.4 yards per game, which ranked 26th in the NFL The Trent Richardson trade was not the cause of it. Richardson’s lack of production was the initial cause of the breakdown. Willis McGahee had a subpar performance which made the Browns vulnerable which showed up in the win-loss column.
Even though the NFL is a passing league and running backs see their value diminished, they are still vital to an offense’s success. A solid running game can keep an opponent off balance, open up perfect play action opportunities that can decimate an opponent and deliver knock out punches to gain the upper hand and seal the victories.
Ben Tate can deliver knock out punches if he remains healthy. This has been a challenge for him so the Browns made a great decision to include incentives to stay healthy in Tate’s contract.
He was the backup to Arian Foster. However, he gained 942 rushing yards in 2011 and 771 yards last season. For a backup running back that has four NFL seasons under his belt and an injury plagued career, Tate has been a huge success. He has the blue collar mentality and running ability that will likely be a key to the Browns ground attack. He could be leaned on heavily if the Browns have a tough time passing the ball. Ironically, the Browns were 9th in the NFL in passing offense, averaging 252.5 yards a game. It is difficult to believe that a team that switched quarterbacks constantly managed to accomplish that.
The Bigger Picture
Now that the Browns have a chance to run the ball with success, they could change the status-quo of being the cellar team provided the team has a successful quarterback and depth at wide receiver.
Browns fans may have a team to truly root for when the season starts. These fans may not require brown bags over their heads after all. The front office seems determined to turn the “factory of sadness” into a feared contender.