After new Browns coach Mike Pettine introduced the team’s coordinators to the media Thursday, he revealed that Kyle Shanahan became his choice to guide the offense not only because of experience, but also because of versatility.
The Browns lost five games last season in which they led or were tied in the fourth quarter, and one of the culprits was an unreliable running game. Under coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner, the team finished 27th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (86.4), led the league with 681 passing attempts and also took 49 sacks.
Pettine wants an offense built for all environments, and he believes Shanahan can deliver one while fitting the system to the players’ strengths. In four of his six seasons as an offensive coordinator, Shanahan’s offenses finished in the top 10 in the league in yards per game, and in his last two with the Washington Redskins, they ranked fifth (135.2 in 2013) and first (169.3 in 2012) in rushing yards per game.
“I think it’s critical when you’re in Northeast Ohio late in the year — your offense has to be all-weather,” Pettine said. “You have to be able to run the ball. It is a passing league, but I think you have to have the ability to run the ball to close games out, and if the weather does turn, you need to find an alternate way to score points.”
One of the themes of Shanahan’s introductory news conference was his desire to step out of the shadow of his father, Mike, the former coach of the Redskins, Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Raiders. Shanahan spent the past four seasons with the Redskins, serving as an offensive coordinator under his father, and the previous two with the Houston Texans, filling the same role under Gary Kubiak, who played for Mike Shanahan and later became his quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator with the Broncos.
“It will be nice when I hear the head coach’s last name and the ‘s’ isn’t already tied to it when you hear ‘the Shanahans,’ ” Kyle Shanahan said. ‘‘ … I put that scheme in that we used in Houston and did the same thing in Washington. I’m pretty confident in what I’ve been asked to do and what my responsibility was in both of those buildings, so I feel good about it. [But] being with a defensive coach [Pettine], it’ll be nice to prove that to you guys.”
Although Shanahan, 34, is eager to separate from his father in some ways, he’ll always be associated with a running game predicated on a zone-blocking scheme because of his last name. Especially during his time with the Broncos, the elder Shanahan developed a reputation for being able to find success with running back after running back after running back because of the system he employed.
The younger Shanahan helped 2012 sixth-round draft pick Alfred Morris flourish in his first two NFL seasons. Morris had 1,613 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns as a rookie and 1,275 rushing yards and seven touchdowns last season. Of course, quarterback Robert Griffin III’s ability to run zone-read plays out of the pistol formation gave the Redskins another formidable rushing threat.
The Browns will work this offseason to find some players who are ideal matches for Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme and rushing attack, which also appeals to Pettine because it sets up play-action passes so well. They’re expected to add a running back through the draft or free agency, and the offensive line could be in flux.
“I think it gets a little overrated [when people assume] you’ve got to have smaller [linemen] that can move and stuff. Really, you want to get the best O-linemen possible,” Shanahan said. “You want guys who can come off the ball, guys who can run numbers to numbers. But you want those guys as big as possible while they still have some quickness that they can reach people and really create space for a back.
“You want a [back] who can press holes, can get downhill and always get good yards per carry, not always looking for the home run, but not a guy that has to get a 60-yarder to average 4 yards per carry. It’d be nice to keep feeding a guy and his longest run in the game might be 10 yards, but still at the end of the game, he’s averaging 4.2 per carry. I just want a consistent running game where you’re never getting in third-and-long, always trying to be in a manageable down and distance where the defense can never really tee off on run or pass.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.