“That’s why I think numbers can be deceiving at times, and I don’t sit there and make excuses,” Smith said during a virtual conference call Monday. “But privately, I thought (our guys) had a lot of progress toward the end of the year. They ran the ball better. Finally, you see the progress, and there’s a lot (of ways), philosophically, that we’ve changed behind the scenes.”
The improvement in the running game is likely attributed to three key developments:
- Cordarelle Patterson’s emergence as the team’s top running back. Patterson has topped 100 yards in two of the team’s first three games, and rushed for 141 yards on a touchdown on 17 carries in the 27-23 victory over the Seahawks.
Rookie Tyler Allgeier has averaged 3.4 yards in 16 attempts this season and quarterback Marcus Mariota is also a threat on the ground, rushing for a pair of touchdowns in three games.
- The offensive line has been solid and victorious in several battles on the line of scrimmage through three games.
“(We want to) continue to improve and win the line of scrimmage,” Smith said. “I say this all the time: ‘it’s all 11.’”
- Tight end Kyle Pitts and rookie receiver Drake London’s ability to provide downfield blocking - while remaining dominant threats in the passing game. Pitts’ receiving production increased against Seattle -- he had 87 yards after only amassing 19 yards in each of his first two games -- while maintaining the solid blocking that’s quickly becoming a staple for the second-year star.
“He really studied the run game too; he’s becoming a really complete player, and it’s only going to benefit us in the long run,” Smith said of Pitts impact on the run. “The guy’s 21 years old, and everybody wants the video-game numbers -- and so do we -- but he has such a huge role and has such a huge part in our success.”
Smith now prepares his team for the challenge ahead: the 2-1 Browns. More specifically, he expects a challenge on the ground from Cleveland’s top-10 run defense.
“Their front, aggressive front, penetrating front, and everybody knows about Myles Garrett, and they’ll be ready to roll,” Smith said of the Browns defense. “Everybody sees the tape. It’s gonna be a really physically game Sunday.”