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Notes: Running game stalls in opener, but Hue Jackson promises it’ll be backbone of offense

CLEVELAND — The Browns rushed 25 times but gained only 57 yards, a 2.3 average, Sunday in the 21-18 season-opening loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Coach Hue Jackson remained steadfast he’ll continue to stick with it, and that they’ll figure it out.

“The run game has got to become our backbone,” he said. “It does. I am not running from that. We are going to run the football. We just have to get better at it.”

Isaiah Crowell rushed 17 times for 33 yards, a 1.9 average. He had a long of 6 yards and a loss of 9, which came on his first carry. He scored on a 2-point conversion and moved into ninth place on Cleveland’s all-time rushing list with 2,298 yards.

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Quarterback DeShone Kizer rushed five times for 17 yards, including a 1-yard sneak for a touchdown, and rookie Matthew Dayes carried three times for 7 yards. Duke Johnson didn’t get a carry and spent much of the day lined up at receiver, catching two passes for 20 yards.

Jackson attributed some of the struggles running the ball to playing a good defense and it being the first game with the offensive line intact.

Left tackle Joe Thomas played in only one preseason game, and left guard Joel Bitonio missed time with a knee injury. Right tackle Shon Coleman, center JC Tretter and right guard Kevin Zeitler are new in the lineup.

“There is going to be a little of growing and learning as we go,” Jackson said. “I expect those guys to gel pretty quickly.”

Zeitler, who was signed as a free agent, said the line won’t settle for anything less.

“We’re doing it and now it’s time for us to make a jump these next couple weeks,” he said.

SLOW START

The Browns held Steelers star running back Le’Veon Bell to 32 yards on 10 rushes and 15 yards on three catches. He entered the game averaging 101 rushing yards and 4.6 per carry in five games against the Browns.

He missed all of camp and the preseason before signing his $12.1 million franchise tender Monday.

“I don’t think I was on the field as much as usual, so obviously it’s not going to be the same numbers, but we won the game and that’s the biggest thing about it,” Bell said. “It was a little different, but it is what it is and I have to move forward.”

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin blamed Bell’s lackluster day on penalties. Pittsburgh had 13 for 144 yards.

“We were out of sync because we were behind the chains,” Tomlin said. “When you get highly penalized and you are working at first-and-15 or second-and-15, you’re not going to have a great running game.

“You can write whatever story you want to write about — his missing preseason and all of that. The bottom line is that we got highly penalized and it put us behind the chains and minimized the running game. Write that because that’s what happened.”

MEMORABLE DAY

Ten Browns players made their NFL debuts.

Safety Jabrill Peppers had four tackles, a pass defensed and a 25-yard punt return. Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi had four tackles. Linebacker James Burgess had a pass breakup playing in the nickel package.

Tight end David Njoku had two catches for 20 yards. Kicker Zane Gonzalez made a 24-yard field goal and an extra point.

** Second-year safety Derrick Kindred got his first career interception.

EXTRA POINTS

Defensive end Carl Nassib started in place of No. 1 pick Myles Garrett, who was inactive with a high ankle sprain suffered Wednesday in practice. He’s expected to miss at least two games.

Nassib, a third-round pick in 2016, had a sack.

** Receiver Ricardo Louis and Johnson left the game with injuries but returned.

** Quarterback Cody Kessler was inactive. Kevin Hogan was the backup.

** Thomas is four snaps short of 10,000 straight to open his career.

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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