Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Mid-week thoughts

The following is not going to be a rant. It’s going to be more like a plea.

Hue Jackson needs to wake up one morning in the not-too-distant future and realize he has a gem of a football player in Duke Johnson Jr. If he does, he also needs to play him more. A lot more.

The running back is unquestionably his best playmaker pun the Browns whenever his coach chooses to put the football in his hands. When he does, the third-year pro often times does wondrous things when in the open field.

A quick check of the snap counts in the first five games shows Johnson has played 22 more snaps (205-183) than Isaiah Crowell in 355 total offensive snaps from scrimmage. It needs to be even more unbalanced.

Look at the production of these two men. Crowell has 69 touches, all but seven as a running back, and gained 251 yards. That’s a 3.64 yard per-touch average. Johnson’s 39 touches, 23 via the forward pass, have produced 347 yards, a per-touch average of 8.9 yards and three total touchdowns. Crowell has yet to score.

Jackson said at the beginning of this season he wanted to present a more balanced offense than last season’s pass-heavy team. He didn’t even come close to meeting that goal in the first four games, during which Crowell ran for a measly 134 yards.

In the most recent loss to the New York Jets, he was much closer to his avowed goal. Crowell, seemingly stuck running in an offense that does not best suit his talents, briefly showed signs of life with consecutive runs of 10 and 16 yards early in the second quarter against the Jets before falling back to short bursts.

Fans are tired of watching Crowell run into a stone wall made up mostly of his offensive line. He has become Jackson’s go-to back on the first play or nearly every possession. Against the Jets, he ran for three, four (after a 10-yard penalty), 10, five, two and one yard, all on first down.

He carried the ball on the first play on six of the first seven possessions. Talk about being predictable. The average yards-to-go on second down was 7½.

The goal of every offense is – or should be – win first down. Second-and-short is easier to call plays for. It opens up the playbook. The Browns haven’t won many first downs on offense this season.

Why? That gets us back to Johnson.

Jackson says he always strives to put his players in the best position to succeed. He seems to have done just that with Johnson, but on a far too limited basis. It’s difficult to comprehend why he stubbornly runs Crowell so often early in a series. He fails a majority of the time.

Johnson has been his best playmaker in an offense that, for the most part, has struggled from the opening snap this season. It shouldn’t be that way, especially when Jackson has a talent like Johnson, whose versatility is being wasted.

The knock on him is he is not a willing blocker when the play calls for him to protect his quarterback on a pass play. Valid point. That can be fixed by keeping a tight end (Jackson has three) in as an extra blocker.

Weigh that against what Johnson can do when the coach places the football in his hands and lets his magic feet and excellent vision do the rest. He needs more snaps. He needs more touches. What does Jackson have to lose? Correct answer: Nothing.
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Fox Sports NFL man-in-the-know Jay Glazer Sunday speculated that Peyton Manning will be back in the NFL in some high-level front-office capacity next season and named three teams as prime candidates for his services.

The future Hall of Fame quarterback, according to Glazer, could wind up in either Los Angeles with the Rams, Tennessee or Cleveland.

Los Angeles, of course, is the most high profile city of the three; he played at the college ball at the University of Tennessee; and he is a personal friend of Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III.

The Rams and Titans have much better rosters than the Browns if Manning seeks to jump on board with a team clearly headed in the right direction. Cleveland’s situation is a relative mess.

About the only chip Haslam can play in an attempt to lure Manning to Cleveland, if he so chooses, is a willingness to make him a part owner. If nothing else, it would be a great public relations move. Install a well-known football man at the top of the flow chart and give him a piece of the action.

Of course it is extremely premature to speculate beyond what Glazer has speculated, but the sound of Browns President and General Manager Peyton Manning sure has a nice ring to it. Cleveland definitely presents the biggest challenge and it isn’t close..
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When the Browns selected placekicker Zane Gonzalez in the final round of the college draft, they did so with the belief he would have no trouble beating out incumbent Cody Parkey for the starting job.

It was his job to lose from the outset of training camp and he didn’t lose it. The kid from Texas by way of Arizona State had a stronger leg, which made the decision easy on cutdown day.

Last Sunday against the New York Jets, Gonzalez had two opportunities to be the determining factor in what should have been the club’s first victory of the season. He failed twice, booting field-goal attempts of 52 and 39 yards wide left.

Gonzalez arrived with the reputation of being an accurate and consistent kicker from 50 yards and beyond. He is only 2-of-5 this season, both inside the 40, and has missed his last three attempts. (But he is perfect on nine extra points.)

The wolves are out after Gonzalez’s miserable performance against the Jets, but I don’t see Jackson making any moves yet. He’s got many more problems to address before fixing the kicking. Another week like the last one, though, could spur some action. Let’s see if the kid has any bounce back.

So where is Parkey? In Miami with the offense-challenged Dolphins. He was perfect on four field-goal attempts, including a 54-yarder, in the season-opening upset of the Los Angeles Chargers. He is five-for-five overall. (But he has missed two extra points.) He has accounted for 17 of the Dolphins’ 41 points in four games.
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Questions seeking answers: Has Ibraheim Campbell replaced Derrick Kindred at strong safety or is Kindred injured? Kindred played only 10 snaps against the Jets. Campbell had 25. Kindred’s name has not popped up on the injury list . . . What do the Browns do with James Burgess now that Jamie Collins is back at outside linebacker after missing three games with a concussion? Burgess led the team in tackles (7) and solo tackles (6) against the Jets with a sack, two tackles for loss, one pass defensed and a couple of quarterback hits. In the Cincinnati loss the previous week, he had seven tackles (four solo). It means there is at least one position on the team with a solid backup.
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Guess who owns one of the NFL’s best defenses? Your Cleveland Browns, that’s who. Gregg Williams’ guys have allowed opponents an average of only 305 yards a game to rank fifth overall in the NFL in that category. They rank 19th against the pass (tied for third-worst, allowing 11 touchdowns) and fifth against the run (an impressive 76.6 yards a game). Division rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati join them in the top five overall. Now all the Browns need is for the offense to wake up and support the defense.
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Didja notice who provided the key block on Johnson’s scintillating 41-yard touchdown romp with a screen pass in the final minutes of the Jets game? After delivering his initial block, center JC Tretter hustled downfield and provided the block that enabled Johnson to cut back to his right at the Jets’ 10-yard line and skip into the end zone. Without that block, it’s doubtful Johnson scores.


  1. My only worry about Johnson is his durability. Can he really absorb more hits from a more active roll? Its seems like he's always getting some little ding during every game but comes back later. I'm just afraid one of these days(with more exposure)it will be more serious. Damned if you do, damned if you don't!

    1. Hi Bill,

      In his final season at Miami, Johnson touched the ball 280 times (242 as a runner) and gained 2,073 yards overall (1,652 as a runner) and scored 13 touchdowns, three through the air.

      That tells me he can take the NFL grind. Plus one of his greatest assets is his ability to make people miss. He is difficult to tackle.