BEREA—Who for the Browns offense has done the disappearing act in the second half the last two weeks?
If you guessed Duke Johnson, you are right.
Johnson is one of the Browns offensive weapons who has not been a factor in the second half after being productive early in the last two games.
Against the Cardinals on Nov. 1, Johnson had two receptions for 68 yards, including a 52-yard catch, which was the biggest offensive play of the game for the Browns. In the second half, he had just one touch, a three-yard run.
Last week, against the Bengals, Johnson touched the ball five times in the first half, including two receptions for 38 yards. His catches were for 26- and a 12-yard touchdown. In the second half, Johnson had no carries from scrimmage and had just one target in the passing game.
On the season, Johnson has 94 touches (59 rushes, 35 receptions) through nine games for an average of just 10 touches a game.
On Oct. 25 against the Rams, Johnson had seven receptions for 73 yards and 17 yards on six carries, but only five touches in the second half.
Even going back to the Broncos overtime loss on Oct. 18, Johnson had 12 touches, but just four in the second half.
Among all NFL running backs, Johnson is tied for third in receiving touchdowns with two, is fourth in receiving yards (369) and sixth in receptions with 35. He is second on the team in rushing with 179 yards on 59 carries, but he is averaging just 3.0 yards per carry. His longest run of the season has been 20 yards.
Is Johnson’s lack of use due to teams taking him away or the Browns not using him.
Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said there is a combination of reasons for the last couple of games, including trying to use three backs. It might be why Robert Turbin was released this week, even though Glenn Winston was activated.
“Against Arizona, we were trying to play three tailbacks and trying to see three guys,” DeFilippo said. “That’s hard. Last week against Cincinnati, I went to coach and said I think it would be best for our football team to roll with two backs. The product of not seeing Duke in the second half was of what we did as a unit, and part of that was me too. With not having a lot of plays and then we went to the two-minute drive and (Johnson) was getting his foot re-taped because he tweaked his ankle. I think it was a product of a few things.”
When the Browns drafted Johnson in the third round, Mike Pettine and DeFilippo raved about Johnson being an integral part of the offense. He did suffer setbacks in training camp with a hamstring injury and a concussion, but is fully up to speed now.
Pettine said he is everything the Browns envisioned when they drafted him.
“He is – a versatile guy that can make some runs,” Pettine said. “He has shown that he can put his foot in the ground and make some runs in this scheme. He is not one of those backs that is a perimeter back only and only going to head for the sidelines. He will run inside and gain some tough yards. In the pass game, he is everything we thought he would be, and I think the sky is the limit there. We feel that he is a tough draw for linebackers to cover. Teams, if they want to cover him successfully one-on-one, they will have to do it with a defensive back. He has a good feel for it, and I think he runs really good routes for being a running back. I think his hands are well above average for an NFL running back, as well.”
Then why not get him the ball more?
“Yeah, Duke has done a good job for us,” Pettine said. “There have been some inconsistencies there, and some of it has been having the right [personnel]. From a personnel grouping standpoint, I know Flip has had some plays where he wanted to have him out there, and we felt after games that we needed to use him more.
“I think the more he touches the ball, the more comfortable he will come,” he said. “He has certainly shown in his rookie year that it is not too big for him and he can be very productive. There are a lot of graduate level details that he needs to get cleaned up, but there is no substitute for going out there and playing and experiencing the live game reps. We are very pleased with where Duke is. I would agree he needs to be a big part of what we do, both run and pass.”
No Decision at QB: Mike Pettine said he thinks the decision on whether McCown will be able to play this week will be determined Thursday night after practice.
“No clarity in that,” Pettine said before practice. “ Josh got through his individual work yesterday. He’ll be limited again in practice today. By the end of the day, we’ll probably have a decent idea of where he is and what we’ll do for the weekend.”
Pettine was asked how McCown looked.
“You can tell he’s sore but he was functional.”
Pettine said there’s still time to make the call.
“I think you’d like to make a decision,” he said. “I think we’ll have enough information by the end of the day with still a full practice tomorrow and our walk through on Saturday.”
During the portion of practice Thursday open to the media, McCown was doing much more than he did Wednesday and was throwing the ball pretty well. He was running through the drills of team offense, as well.
Haden, Whitner Still Out: DB Joe Haden and DB Donte Whitner are still in the concussion protocol and were not at practice Thursday. OL Joel Bitonio has been ruled out with the ankle injury. The rest of the players on the injury report practiced at least in a limited capacity according to Pettine. DB Jordan Poyer (shoulder) DB Ibraheim Campbell (hamstring) and McCown (ribs) were on the injury report.
If Whitner misses his second-straight game, Poyer and Campbell are expected to fill in.
Jim O’Neil thought Campbell did well in his first game, despite hurting his hamstring early on.
“I thought he had a really solid game in his first game,” O’Neil said. “He fought through hamstring and made some plays.”
Gaines to be Active: Rookie DB Charles Gaines was activated earlier this week off of injured reserve-designated for return and will be active for this week’s game. Pettine said that Gaines will get some work with DB Pierre Desir filling in for DB Joe Haden, who might miss this week again with a concussion.
“(Gaines) is going to be a part of our game plan,” O’Neil said. “I hated to put him on injured reserve, because he was playing so well. He can blitz, can play man coverage. He can play outside corner or inside. He gives us some depth at the positions. You like his attitude and brings a different element to that group.”
Gilbert “Inconsistent: O’Neil was asked about DB Justin Gilbert, who filled in early in the game against the Bengals and broke up a deep pass in the end zone intended for WR Marvin Jones.
“I thought he earned (the reps to play),” O’Neil said. “ He was a little inconsistent. He made a nice play on the one vertical ball. He did some good things, but there are things he needs to clean up.”