CLEVELAND—It’s amazing what being able to run the ball and stop the run can do for a football team.
The Browns stated mission on the season was to do just that coming into the season but did anything but that in the first 12 games.
The Browns rushed for 230 yards and held the 49ers to just 71 yards in the 24-10 win over the 49ers to snap a seven-game losing streak in front of an announced crowd of 63,916 fans at FirstEnergy Stadium. The win improves the Browns to 3-10, while the 49ers fall to 4-9.
The Browns haven't rushed rushed for as many yards since they had 230 yards against the Patriots on Nov. 7, 2010.
“Offensively and defensively as complete a game as we’ve played," Mike Pettine said. "It was great to see us run the football as well as we did – over 200 yards...When you run the ball like that, you can get ahead of the sticks like we did and get them back on their heels. You run the ball; you tire a defense out. I think that’s the ideal way to win a football game offensively."
Meanwhile the Browns rushing game had averaged just 73.9 yards a game the first 12 games, which was 32nd in the NFL. They had 90 midway through the first quarter led by Isaiah Crowell, who had a 50-yard run to set up his one-yard touchdown with 5:38 to play in the first quarter. The Browns had 112 yards rushing in the first half alone.
Crowell finished with his best game of his young NFL career with 145 yards on 20 carries, including two touchdowns. Duke Johnson added 78 yards on 13 carries.
Crowell was asked why he had such a big game.
"It was just getting a rhythm," Crowell said. "It was being able to get into the flow of the game. The offensive line did a great job and the receivers were blocking downfield. It was all great."
Johnson said he wanted to get in on the action, as well.
"It was very contagious," Johnson said. "Especially when the guys up front are playing the way that they are. Crowell was finding a rhythm. Then I came in and found a rhythm and we just kept it going back and forth."
Crowell had breakout runs of 54- and 50-yards.
“We felt good about the run plan and the matchup," Pettine said. "Thought we matched up and then there were some thing schematically we thought we could take advantage of, especially in some of the spread run game. The drawings on paper only go so far. The guys executed. I thought we blocked well. I thought our backs ran hard. They kind of set the tempo. First couple runs of the game, they weren’t blocked for much. They were breaking tackles and our guys ran hard.”
Meanwhile, the Browns defense came into the game ranked 29th and were 31st against the rush. They held the 49ers to under 50 yards through the midway point of the fourth quarter. On top of stopping the run, the Browns had their best passing rushing day of the season with nine sacks.
“Defensively, it starts on third down,and we got off the field,” Pettine said. “I thought (defensive coordinator) Jim O’Neil did a good job of mixing pressure and straight rush. Max coverage, we rushed three a decent amount and had success and then brought it when we needed to.”
Pettine was asked why the defense had such a good game.
“A lot of reasons," he said. "I think we had a good plan. Our guys played hard. I thought we tackled well. There were not a lot of yards after. We set edges in the run game. I thought our pass rush was – I don’t know the last time the Browns had nine sacks. That’s a credit to that group and the pass rush plan Anthony Weaver put together for those guys, and they went out and executed.
"We talked about it all week," he said. "There’s nothing like winning. We just wanted to find a way. Just the mental toughness of the men in that room, very easily could have been just, ‘Let’s shut this down and ride out the month.’ This league is about winning, and I think they set their minds to it.”
Pettine said he was proud of the players for not giving up and determining to get a win.
“It’s a credit to those guys, too, how they prepare during the week," he said. "We had one of our best weeks of practice. It's also coming at a time where very easily we could just be feeling sorry for ourselves and getting caught up in all of the negativity outside of our building.
"That's why for me, I couldn't be happier for our guys because it was a long time coming. Just to see their faces afterwards, it was a win that was earned. We earned it. We deserved it."