If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
We all know this saying from when we were growing up, as it was the motto of nearly every single grade school teacher as a form of motivation to struggling students. However, in regard to the Cleveland Browns atrocious rushing attack, maybe the saying should be changed to “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”
Why the third try, you ask? Well it is simple, the third try refers to the Browns third running back—Robert Turbin.
Turbin was claimed off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks earlier this season despite having an ankle injury that would keep him out for the first five games of the season. Even with second-year back Isaiah Crowell and third-round pick Duke Johnson Jr. on the roster, the Browns coaching staff and scouting department saw something in the 5’10” and 222-pound 25-year old back they really liked. How else could they justify using a roster spot that long on a player who was injured behind two young backs?
Turbin finally made his debut for the Browns two weeks ago in their loss to the Denver Broncos. He would carry the ball 10 times for 27 yards against the Broncos stout defense, as the Browns unit gained 109 yards on 33 carries total. In his second game against the St. Louis Rams, Turbin was more effective in short order—carrying the ball five times for 30 yards and catching two passes for eight yards.
Owners of the No. 26 ranked rushing attack in the NFL (633 yards on 175 carries), stagnant may be a kind word to describe what offensive coordinator John DeFilippo’s run game is. At 3.6 yards per carry, the Browns find themselves at No. 29 in the league, and their two rushing touchdowns are just one more than the No. 32 overall Jacksonville Jaguars have on the season.
The run game was supposed to be a strength for the Cleveland Browns offense this season. Instead, it has become a major after-thought thanks to the ineffectiveness of Crowell and Johnson early on in the season. How did this happen?
After trading Terrance West to the Titans and anointing Crowell the starter, he has responded with 281 yards and one touchdown on 81 carries (3.5 yards per carry). Johnson, the rookie out of Miami, has found yards a little more difficult to come by—carrying 55 times for 176 yards (3.2 yards per carry). In fact, the Browns No. 3 rusher on the team is quarterback Josh McCown, who has rushed 13 times for 68 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and one touchdown.
If you are a little sad by those numbers do not worry, you aren’t the only one. And, not to rub salt in the wound, but 30-year old Chris Johnson has carried the ball 111 times for 567 yards and three touchdowns this season, and he was a free agent until August 17th during the preseason.
So, what are the Browns prospects for getting the run game going against the defense of the Arizona Cardinals? Well, better than you think.
The Cardinals are currently ranked No. 14 in the league in rush yards given up at 682 on 169 carries (4 yards per carry), which is good for 97.4 per game. If you look back at the Cardinals seven games this season, when teams really stuck to the run—Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis and Pittsburgh—they were able to notch 100-yard performances against them.
Now, I know what you are thinking. Those teams have Matt Forte, Carlos Hyde, Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell, respectively, as their lead backs. The Browns have not had a back state their case to be the feature guy, let alone in the echelon of those four backs.
This is all accurate, but this is where Turbin comes in.
Playing in Seattle for the first three years of his career, Turbin served as the primary backup to Marshawn Lynch, so carries were difficult to come by. But he did get the distinct privilege of taking on the Arizona Cardinals twice a year, and he has a pretty solid performance (20 carries for 108 yards) under his belt from back in 2012.
Does one good performance back in 2012 mean he is ready to do it again? No, but he has prepared for the defensive schemes and a number of the players on the Cardinals roster six times in three years—which is easily more than any other player on the Browns roster. Couple that with his decisive running style, and he could provide the spark the Browns need for their rushing attack to finally get going this season.