Browns

Give Duke the Damn Ball

Two. Seven. Eight. No, I am not counting to 10 to calm down. Those are the amount of touches Browns running back/wide receiver Duke Johnson has received in the first three weeks of the season. He has touched the ball just 17 times in the 197 offensive plays. He has attempted just six rushes and has been targeted in the passing just 18 times. It is ridiculous for the Browns to give their best offensive skill player the ball a mere 17 times in three games. GIVE DUKE THE DAMN BALL.

In the few touches Johnson has received, he has made the most of them. On the ground, he has six rushes for 44 yards and a touchdown with a 7.3 yards per carry average. Through the air, he has caught 11 passes for 160 yards for a 14.5 yards per catch average. In his limited times with the ball in his hands, he is making plays and is getting big chunks of yards for the offense. But, he has just 17 touches. That is dumbfounding.

Browns Head Coach Hue Jackson responded in Monday’s press conference to questions about whether Johnson was receiving enough touches and should they put more effort into getting him the touches. “More of an effort,” Jackson laughed. “Trust me, that is because you guys see him making a bunch of plays. ‘Let’s give him another 10 opportunities’. I get it. We are trying. I think the other team knows he is a guy who is making plays so they are going to do everything they can to take him away. Duke has done a good job, made some huge plays yesterday and is working at it. He will continue to make plays for us.”

As a player, Johnson is a runner with incredible balance and agility. He is a compact athlete who can take hits from tacklers and continue up field to gain more yardage after contact. His greatest gift is his ability to elude defenders and to stay balanced through contact or after complicated elusive moves. According to Pro Football Focus, in his 17 touches this season, Johnson has caused nine missed tackles. Nine. Pro Football Focus also stated that the Browns running back would lead the league in their elusive rating had he had enough touches to qualify for the list. Amongst running backs with at least 17 touches, he leads the league in PFF’s elusive rating. He is a player who is incredibly hard to bring down.

With his elusive ability, he is a potential big play producer because he can make multiple defenders miss and gain extra yards after contact. Of his 11 catches, he has gained more than ten yards in five of those receptions. And of his six rushes, he has rushed for more than ten yards on two of those carries. So, seven of his 17 touches created plays of ten or more yards. That is a big play producer and someone the offense should be using frequently to be a true playmaker for the young offense without anyone else currently filling that role.

Johnson is an offensive coordinator’s dream. His versatility to play in a multitude of roles allows the offense to use him all over the field and make it hard for defenses to figure out where he will be on a given snap. The offense should be moving around the entire game and giving him different ways to touch the ball. But, the Browns have not done that within a game, rather from game to game. In Week 1, Johnson lined up at as a receiver (or in a tight end spot) on all 50 of his snaps, taking zero snaps at running back. In Week 2 and 3, it almost completely flipped. Over those two games, he lined up at receiver for seven snaps of the 79 snaps he played in, while lining up at running back for the rest of the 72 snaps.1 The Browns are not using his versatility to confuse the defense within the game. They are sticking to one role for pretty much the entire game, making it easier for the defenses to find him.

The Browns are criminally under-using Johnson. For the best offensive skill player on the team to just have 17 touches in three games is quite frankly freakin’ ridiculous. He is a player who can make the young quarterback DeShone Kizer’s life so much easier because Kizer can give Johnson the ball on a five-yard slant and allow Johnson to use his running ability to create big plays on his own. For a team who has a huge hole at wide receiver, the Browns have a really good one on their running back unit.

Cleveland must utilize Johnson’s versatility both as a runner and a receiver increasingly more. He should receive 20 to 30 touches a game. That is not an overstatement. Give Johnson 15 to 20 carries. Give him 5 to 15 targets a game in the passing game. For Coach Jackson to say they are trying and that defenses are focusing on him is an excuse. As a running back, he can receive the handoff and get the ball regardless of the defense. A good coach can make routes and schemes to get a receiver open and available for targets. As a play caller, it is your job to find ways to get the best players the ball. Utilize your best player. It is crazy to me to see how little work the talented back gets on an offense that puts out the likes of Kenny Britt, Sammie Coates, Rashard Higgins and Ricardo Louis on a consistent basis.

Duke Johnson is on a different level from anyone else on the roster as an offensive playmaker. So, I don’t know. How about we GIVE DUKE THE DAMN BALL!

  1. Snap stats come from Pro Football Focus []

  • JM85

    They’re passing way too much. How about running the ball?

  • Chris

    Double reverse jet sweep flea flickers to Duke!!!

  • MartyDaVille

    This is reminiscent of how the Buckeyes underused Curtis Samuel for most of last year. Coaches sometimes just seem to have a blind spot about certain guys.

    Hue needs to be more creative in using what little talent he does have available.

  • Dan

    This is all well and good in practice and I agree with everything here. I just recall the past couple of years where Duke would get a couple of consecutive carries then run over to the sideline completely gassed or shaken up. If may be that the coaching staff is limiting Duke’s touches because they have found he just cannot carry the load of 20 to 30 touches a game. Then again, if he is on the field and not getting the ball, then is another story.

    I just do not know why Hue would not be constantly hammering into Kizer’s head that he needs to involve his running backs and TE’s in the passing game. I am starting to wonder if the plan of pushing downfield on passes isn’t an analytics driven strategy. My thinking is that 10+ play long drives are rare and there are too many factors that may mess them up (penalties, incomplete passes, blocking mistakes, sacks, runs for losses) and the plan is to try to eliminate as many plays as possible and therefore eliminate the chances of a negative factor influencing a drive. Basically, it is trying to hit a home run at every at bat – sure there will be a lot of strike outs, but when you actually hit a home run, it makes up for the misses). That may explain the lack of running plays. Obviously this could result in a lot of three and outs, which we have seen in these first few games.

  • jpftribe

    I think Harv nailed it on the other thread. Hue is too focused on developing a rookie QB and not seeing the forest through the trees. Laughing at the concept of utilizing your best skill player more is pretty alarming. FWIW, national pundits were saying the same thing on twitter during the game: Browns way under utilizing Johnson.

  • scripty

    Until we start catching short and intermediate passes and can move the sticks, there are going to be 7 and 8 men in the box, which is not ideal for running. My view is that until the WR win some 1-1 battles, there’ll be nowhere to run. Alan Faneca and Steve Hutchinson are not pulling wide to clean out the mike backers and clear space.

    I am not sure there’s much in sight for 2017 season given the awful WRs

  • mgbode

    Counterpoint: Duke Johnson is averaging 7.3 yards per carry

    I mean, it is not like passing the ball every down is working, so I don’t see a reason to not give him a few more carries.

  • RGB

    “Coaches sometimes just seem to have a blind spot about certain guys.”

    https://media.giphy.com/media/EXfcbsDad7qqQ/giphy.gif

  • Chris

    Stop. Just stop.

  • Harv

    Hue’s barely giving Crowell the ball, so why do we think he’ll start feeding Duke? He seems fixated on a big-armed kid QB that will give him job security, and on game day he can’t shake visions of quick-strike TDs that dance through his head all week.

    Broken record time: Hue’s insistence on being HC, play-caller and QB whisperer may be his undoing. He needs a wee touch of Mangini, stat, a path to win ugly against bad teams. He’s trying to be I.M. Pei with a pile of plywood, and come Week 15 nobody will want to hear him blaming Sashi or Gregg Williams. At that point it will be a mess of splinters and every man and his alibi for himself.

  • tigersbrowns2

    we all know this , Duke is Miami’s all-time leading rusher … think about that & about all the big-time names that are on that list … so , do the Browns think he can’t be an every-down back ?? is he burdened with that “3rd down back” tag ? maybe it wouldn’t hurt to give him a try at being a featured back. i would guess he’s faster than Crowell.

  • tigersbrowns2
  • Harv

    “you’re so old you’re a broken … gramophone.” Subtle, Tiges, I like it.

  • tigersbrowns2

    good post DAN … in my mind , Duke , Devalve & Njoku are the best play-makers out there.

  • scripty

    yeah I’ll buy this. a few.

  • tigersbrowns2

    with all due respect , of course …

  • RGB

    What about this top rated OL of ours…

  • Dan

    Agreed. Duke has the run after catch potential and the TE’s are big targets that can be found easily. Even if Hue was drilling in my ear to go downfield, I would still be dropping it off to them more.

  • tigersbrowns2

    Devalve & Njoku are also surprisingly fast for TE’s.

  • tigersbrowns2

    hi RGB … great point. with 3 new starters , maybe they’re just starting to gel … we cut it down to 1 sack last game & we did have 111 yards rushing which was an improvement over the first 2 games … but yes , it was against the Colts.

  • tigersbrowns2
  • Chris

    The problem with our O-Line is that corners like Joe Haden are more than capable of covering our pass droppers. That’s a lot of extra defensive resources that can focus on the RB and QB

  • tigersbrowns2
  • mgbode

    We also haven’t been getting as much punch at the PoA as we had hoped (point of attack). Could continue to get better as they figure each other out though.

  • jpftribe
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  • Jay S

    Thank you Joe for saying what I’ve been screaming for at least 2yrs. Duke Johnson is a playmaker. He has been since becoming a Brown. He has better vision and elusiveness than any other backs we have. But unfortunately for Duke and others on this team, they have a HC that doesn’t seem to know how to develop an effective game plan to exploit their talents. We also have a beautiful full bk, that just likes to maul defenders- hardly ever used by this coach. He doesn’t believe in the short attack game.

    The Baltimore game last year told me pretty much all I needed to know about Hue; he believes the vertical game is being aggressive and he’s stuck on that no matter our roster or the opponent; and the short yardage game is just”..sitting on the ball..” and is non-aggressive(the Browns were over 4.5 yds in that B-more game)

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