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!
- Snap stats come from Pro Football Focus [↩]