A New Hope -- has the improbable run to 10-6 just begun?

Can there still be a Disney ending for this season?  We've witnessed act one where our heroes face soul-crushing adversity.  A team that thought it was going to walk into the playoffs with its talent humbled by repeated failure.  Their collective backs are against the wall.  No remaining margin for error exists.  Nothing short of a miracle will save this season or the Browns team and coaching staff as it is currently constituted. 
Don't ever tell me the odds.  -Han Solo 
The number-crunchers handicap the Browns as having anywhere between an eight to twelve percent of making the playoffs.  If the Browns are to kick this season into hyper-drive, they'll have to topple the Evil Empire, not once but twice, starting this Thursday on national TV. 

Be careful not to choke on your aspirations.  -Darth Vader

The Steelers traditionally play well in prime time.  In addition to being very good on the defensive side of the ball this season, they have the added advantage of being the recipient of head-scratchingly disproportionate favorable treatment by NFL officials.   The latest case of the Dark Side of the Force at play involves a refusal to overturn a fumble turned defensive touchdown on a play where the football ended up ten years downfield out of a Jared Goff's clearly forward-moving arm.   If the Browns are going to beat the Steelers, they are going to have to overcome more than just themselves.   They might need to beat the Steelers and the zebras.

Do or do not.  There is no try.  -Master Yoda  

There is small precedent for Browns impressive prime time wins against the Steelers.    

Tim Couch had the best game of his disappointing career against the Steelers on a Sunday night, leading a 1-3 team into Pittsburgh and coming out with a dominating 33-13 win.

On a frigid Thursday night in December of 2009, Mike Tomlin boasted that the Steelers were going to "unleash hell" in making their desperate playoff run a season removed from a Superbowl win.   Ben Rothlisberger was probably wishing he could just make his inevitable descent into the firey pits to escape the relentless pass rush Eric Mangini manufactured in route to sacking Big Ben eight times and pounding out a 13-6 victory.

I find your lack of faith disturbing.  -Darth Vader

So what will be the secret weapon for the Browns to overcome the Steelers' zebra-aided momentum Thursday?   How about a second straight week of using an offensive formation that was born in 1999 (the same year as the Browns' return) at tiny Ohio Northern University?

In the win against Buffalo, the Browns debuted Kareem Hunt and the O.G. of  pistol formations.  The results were incredible.   Almost all of Nick Chubb's 116 rushing yards came out of this formation and the Bills defense was on its heels.    

The version of the pistol as it was run at Ohio Northern University and as the Browns utilized Sunday is a two-back set.   The quarterback lines up four yards from the line of scrimmage.  This is not as deep as the traditional shotgun formation, but still gives the quarterback an advantage in seeing over the line.  

One of the running backs (Chubb) lines up in the "I" position three yards behind the quarterback.   This makes it easier to run left or right, and in Chubb's case, allows him to use his incredible field vision.

The second running back (Hunt) flanks either side of the quarterback and can be used as a runner (using the same plays of the traditional one-back pistol formation), a run blocker, a receiver, or even to help out in pass protection.

This formation allows the Browns to get two of their best players on the field at one time.  With Chubb and Hunt, the Browns have two of the ten best running backs in the NFL.   This, above all else, is now the team's greatest strength.

Having both backs on the field allows the threat of counter action -- showing two potential ball carriers moving in opposite directions.   With both options posing real threats, it will force defenses to defend every single blade of grass and will freeze linebackers and safeties.

Hunt's added touches should not only improve the running game, but his presence on the field along with Chubb may dictate defensive schemes.   Does a defensive coordinator opt for base defenses to try to better defend against the two big-bodied backs or employ nickel because of the threat of using Hunt and or Chubb in the receiving game?

Finally, it potentially allows the Browns to augment their protection schemes without reverting to 12 and 13 personnel with their current dearth of talent at the tight end position.

Back in 1986 the Browns lined up two 1,000 yard rushers behind a young quarterback on route to an 8-8 record and playoff berth.   These running backs are better.

Chubb and Hunt are going to give defenses a look that no other team can replicate and that should give opposing defenses fits.   Their success will also open up the play action passing game and generate more easy throws.

Running the table for the season starting with a victory over a streaking and hated division rival may be more difficult than making the Kessel run in under 12 parsecs, but as a cocky gunslinger once said when facing a comparable predicament:

A New Hope -- has the improbable run to 10-6 just begun? A New Hope -- has the improbable run to 10-6 just begun? Reviewed by AT Dawgger on 10:12 PM Rating: 5
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