Green, Suggs turn back the clock By Steve King, Associate Editor October 27, 2004
William Green and Lee Suggs.
Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner.
With the way Green and Suggs performed against the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday, especially in the first half, it's impossible not to think back to the last half of the 1980s when Mack and Byner were in the backfield for the Browns. The Browns haven't had a tandem of backs like that since then, their best duo being Green (887) and Jamel White (470), who combined for 1,357 in 2002.
At halftime of the 34-31 overtime loss Sunday, Suggs had nine carries for 69 yards, averaging 7.7 yards a try. Green was averaging 8.3 yards on 50 yards in nine rushes.
"That was a great feeling," Suggs said this week. "It got us going. It got the offense rolling."
With the Browns running the ball at will against a defense that entered the game ranked ninth against the rush, the Eagles were desperate to make some halftime adjustments.
"They turned to a full-man blitz," Browns coach Butch Davis said. "They started using eight- and nine-man fronts."
That shut off the running game.
"They were shooting the gaps, and it was disrupting things," fullback Terrelle Smith said.
But with everybody crowded near the line of scrimmage, it opened up the passing game. Quarterback Jeff Garcia was 12-of-18 for 125 yards and a touchdown in the second half as the Philadelphia secondary become more vulnerable.
In a lot of ways, that is what happened with the Browns in 1985. With Mack (1,104) and Byner (1,002) accomplishing the unique feat of both going over the 1,000-yard mark, a first-year quarterback named Bernie Kosar started finding a little more room to throw.
Garcia, 34, is obviously not a rookie like was Kosar that year, but he has been facing some of the same problems; Garcia is in his first season with the Browns after signing as a free agent in the offseason. Like Kosar, Garcia is trying to learn the system and the players.
It's working. Garcia has had two good games in a row. After throwing for 310 yards and four TDs and two interceptions on 16-of-23 passing, he finished Sunday at 21-of-31 for 236 yards, a TD and a pick.
"In many ways, this was my most complete game," Garcia said of his effort against the Eagles. "I told (quarterbacks) coach (Steve) Hagen, 'I'm getting it. I'm starting to get it.' This was a sign of things becoming more natural for me."
That's all being borne out of the running game. It's no secret the Browns want to be a team that runs first to set up the pass. When they're able to do that, as they did Sunday and also the previous week when they defeated Cincinnati 34-17 with the help of Green's 115 rushing yards and Suggs' 100 receiving yards, it makes everything so much easier.
"You've got to walk before you can run, and for the Browns back in 1985 and also now, you've got to be able to run before you can pass," said Doug Dieken, who was in the first of his 17 years then as the color analyst on the Browns radio network.
In 1985, Mack was an NFL rookie who signed with the Browns when the USFL folded. Byner was a second-year pro after having been an obscure 10th-round draft pick from East Carolina the year before.
They clicked right from the start and helped lead the Browns to the AFC Central title and the first of five straight playoff appearances for the team.
Nineteen years later, it's Suggs and Green. Like Mack was with Byner, Green is a little older and more experienced than his running mate. This is his third season after being the Browns' top draft pick in 2002.
He lost the final half of last season after encountering a series of personal problems. He is just now starting to look like the back he was before that, when he had one big performance after another in the final nine games as a rookie to help lead the Browns to the AFC playoffs.
Suggs has also missed time - in fact, almost all of his rookie season in 2003 after having shoulder surgery. The fourth-round draft pick then sat out the first three games this year because of a neck injury.
That's why he has just 209 yards (3.4 average) as the 3-4 Browns head into their bye week. Green has 431 yards and a 4.2 average.
Green has a definite shot at 1,000 yards. With nine games remaining, he has to average just a little over 62 yards per contest the rest of the season to get there.
For Suggs, it will be extremely difficult if not next-to-impossible fore him to reach 1,000. He needs a couple games like the breakout one he had in last year's finale, when he ran for 186 yards against Cincinnati to put a small silver lining into a disappointing 5-11 finish for the team.
Byner's breakout game also came in the last game of a 5-11 season in 1984 when, as a rookie as well, he had 188 yards against the Houston Oilers.
And oh, yes, Byner wore No. 44, just as does Suggs now.
So now for the $64,000 question: Can Suggs and Green ever evolve into another Mack and Byner?
"I think they can if they, the line and the rest of the offense continues to progress at the same rate as they are now," Dieken said.
"In Lee and William, you've got two guys who are able to take it to the house on any play. Kevin had that same ability, but Earnest was more of a guy who would just get in there and slug it out."
Fullback Terrelle Smith, signed in the offseason to be the long-needed lead blocker for the running game, calls Suggs and Green "a two-headed monster. When I watch them, no matter which one has the ball, I see the same player going into the hole. But once they get through the hole, that's where Lee and William start doing the things that distinguish themselves from each other."
Suggs ended the Eagles contest with a game-high 78 yards in 16 carries. Green was right behind him with 64 yards in 14 tries.
The difference that day may have been how the Browns used the two backs. In the first six games this year, they rotated them on nearly every series. Against Philadelphia, they moved them in and out on the same series, minimizing their time on the bench.
"By not being out so long, we were able to get in sync better," Green said.
"It made a big difference," Suggs said.
But it's not a perfect situation. Perfect would be getting the chance to be the feature back and stay in there for all the plays on every series. Neither one is happy about the fact that Davis is committed to using both of them equally to have a fresh back in the game at all times.
"It is what it is," Green said. "You just go out there and do what you're asked to do, when you're asked to do it. You just have to take advantage of your opportunities."
It was different with Byner and Mack in 1985. Most teams, including the Browns, used two runners in the game at the same time then. Now the Browns utilize either Green or Suggs lined up behind Smith. It's a formula Davis and offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie believe will lead to even more success.
"I think Lee and William will definitely get better," Davis said. "Both guys are young and have a lot of upside as both runners and receivers."
Suggs already has 11 catches this season for 131 yards, including a 59-yarder for a TD, while Green has eight receptions for 35. In 1985, Byner was second on the team in catches with 45. Mack was fourth with 29.
Both Green and Suggs are healthy, as is the offensive line, which, according to Davis, turned in its best game of the year against the Eagles. The Browns, as mentioned, got their ground game untracked with Green in the final nine games of 2002 to make the playoffs after being just 3-4 at one point.
With nine games left this year, they hope that the performances of the last two contests indicate the same thing might be ready to happen again.