Passan: Running Rant

Remarkable Rant from Rich Regarding Rampant Run Repairs. Really.

It's been said by people much wiser than us that the road to the Super Bowl is paved with teams that run the football well and stop the run equally well.

That said, the Browns are about as far removed from Super Bowl thoughts as Dennis Kucinich is from doing business in the White House Oval Office in a couple of years.

When Phil Savage arrived in Cleveland a couple of years ago as the man in charge of straightening out a franchise that had floundered way too long, he found a team virtually incapable of running the ball and stopping the run.

And in those two years, he has produced a team virtually incapable of running the ball and stopping the run.

Granted, he has made a few moves in free agency to help both sides of that equation, but hasn't come even close to solving either problem area. They still linger.

Savage has an alarmingly long way to go in order to lift the Browns from their dregs status in the National Football League to even representative status. It appears as though he's taking the slow route.

While helping Ozzie Newsome build one of the NFL's elite defenses down in Baltimore, Savage seemed to have a feel for plugging in the right man in the right hole: Terrell Suggs at defensive end/outside linebacker, Chris McAlister at cornerback, Ed Reed at free safety, Bart Scott at inside linebacker, Adalius Thomas at outside linebacker.

It was clear he and Newsome formed a terrific team at constructing a strong defense.

So why is he having problems in Cleveland? Thus far, the only hole he's plugged is outside linebacker with Kamerion Wimbley. You can make a case for inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, but it would be a weak one.

Could it be that working without a safety net (Newsome's help) might be more of a challenge?

Sure, it takes time. And while two years might not seem to be enough time, it's clear Savage has whiffed on most of his second-day picks in the college draft.

There isn't one second-day choice – unless you consider Leon Williams' late-season contributions – who has played significant minutes for the Browns in the last two seasons.

Savage, whose neglect for the trenches in the draft has not gone unnoticed, has a chance this year to correct what has been a sizable mistake in his brief tenure with the Browns.

The signing of defensive end Robaire Smith last week is a start, a step in the right direction. But Savage still has a long way to go to repair the most vital part of his defense.

Signing defensive tackle Shaun Smith off the Cincinnati roster is, in the words of Paul Hilton Davis, a "teeny, tiny" Band-Aid. This Smith was a backup with the Bengals and figures to play a similar role with the Browns.

Savage still needs a quality nose tackle and another defensive end. Running Ted Washington out there again this season means more of what we saw last season: An old man getting pushed around.

If the running game on both sides of the ball is not the GM's top two priorities in next month's draft and the subsequent time left in free agency, then gird yourselves for another miserable season of professional football. Or what passes for that in Cleveland.

Too many times, we have seen opposing teams gouge holes in the Cleveland defense. Too many times, we have seen the defense fail to shut down the opponent on third down. Too many times, we have seen the Cleveland defense sucking wind in the fourth quarter.

That has got to stop.

Romeo Crennel is supposed to be a defensive guru. He's got a fistful of Super Bowl rings to prove it. So what gives with the pathetic Cleveland defense?

In his two years as a head coach, where has that defensive genius been? How much help has he been to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham? Why are the Browns getting worse against the run? Questions begging for answers.

The Browns' defense has been awful in those two seasons. And in this buck-stops-here-world, Crennel has to shoulder a major portion of the blame. Too many holes in the dike.

Crennel's fabulous 3-4 scheme isn't so fabulous. Is it possible the Browns have the wrong personnel in that scheme?

Stopping the opposition starts with stopping the run. Do that and you force opponents to do something they don't necessarily want to do – throw the ball.

The Indianapolis Colts are a perfect example of why stopping the run is so important. The Super Bowl champions were dead last in the NFL in stopping the run during the regular season, but compiled a 12-4 record mainly due to their strong offense.

In the postseason, however, the Colts slammed the door on four opponents, giving up an average of just 83 yards on the ground. Without that kind of stinginess, it's very unlikely they would have made it to the title game.

The Browns don't have the luxury of a strong offense. That ratchets up the importance of fielding a strong defense, one that takes pressure off said offense.

It worked for the Baltimore Ravens in their Super Bowl year and the Pittsburgh Steelers in their Super Bowl year. In each case, those teams stopped the run and presented a strong running game. The quarterbacks were along for the ride.

It all starts and ends with the run.

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