Slow down a team’s opposing running back, that seems like something an NFL team should be able to do a couple times a year. But for the Cleveland Browns, not only is it something that they have not done this year—it is the proverbial monkey on the back of the team’s defense during the Mike Pettine era.
Heading into Sunday’s matchup against the St. Louis Rams, there is probably zero chance of the Browns defense stopping the run. However, if they can slow down extremely talented rookie back, Todd Gurley, they just might have a chance to win this one. Unfortunately for the Browns, there are two problems with that statement.
The first problem is in regard to slowing down a talented running back, as the Browns haven’t been able to slow down backs with far less talent than Gurley this season. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak, as the Browns have allowed a league-worst 899 yards on 181 carries (149.8 yards per game) through six games this season.
On the other side of the field, the Rams are putting up 113.8 yards per game on the ground—which is good for No. 12 in the league. If you are getting excited about the difference between 149.8 and 113.8 right now, take a deep breath because it is about to get worse. In the two games Gurley has carried the ball like a starting running back (against Arizona and Green Bay), the Rams rushed for 164 yards and 191 yards respectively.
When you look at who the Browns have allowed to gash their defense this season—Dexter McCluster and Danny Woodhead to name two—let’s just say it is tough to get excited about the prospects of stopping Gurley on Sunday. This brings us to problem number two, Gurley.
See, problem number one was the fact that the Browns have struggled against less talented backs. Problem number two is Gurley could be the most talented back in the NFL by the end of the season, no offense to Adrian Peterson.
In 55 NFL carries, Gurley has ripped off 314 yards for an average of 5.7 yards-per carry. If you want to put those numbers into context, Browns running back Isaiah Crowell has 272 yards on 73 carries and Duke Johnson has 159 yards on 49 carries. Simply put, Gurley’s talent level is on another level than the backs the Browns currently have.
To make matters worse for the Browns, Gurley has yet to find the endzone this season.
Yes you read that correctly, the back who ripped off 36 touchdowns in 30 collegiate games has yet to score a touchdown this season. This does not bode well for the Browns, who have given up six touchdowns on the season to running backs. If Gurley isn’t seeing red every time he stares at the Browns defense from the backfield, I would be very shocked.
So, how do you slow down Gurley if you are the Browns? Well, it will not be easy—but there is a way.
Go back in time and find a different front seven—kidding, well kind of. In all seriousness, the Browns are going to have to stack the box and make Nick Foles beat them if they want to slow down Gurley, which is something that can be done.
Foles has only thrown for 956 yards this season (191.2 per game) in his five games, and currently is the owner of his worst career completion percentage at 57.4 percent. With six touchdowns versus five interceptions, there will be plenty of opportunities for the Browns to force Foles into a bad decision that could turn the game. And that is why the Browns need to force him to beat them, and not let Gurley.
An admitted fan of Foles, he isn’t the most nimble guy in the world and has a tendency to make bad decisions at times—as evidenced by 15 interceptions in his last 13 games. So if I’m the Browns defensive staff, that’s who I want to try and beat me on Sunday.
This all sounds good in theory, but it has to be executed on the field in St. Louis for it to work—but the Browns certainly can do this if their coaching staff has it in their gameplan. You aren’t going to bottle up Gurley, he is far too talented for that. But if you can slow him down a little, the Browns just may have a chance in this one.