Browns should focus on Duke Johnson for remainder of the season

The Cleveland Browns were leading the NFL in rushing early on in 2016. Now, they rank No. 26 entering Week 13. As Isaiah Crowell’s production continues to dip, Duke Johnson is reminding fans of his potential.

“Feed the Crow” was a popular slogan to begin the 2016 NFL season. After all, Isaiah Crowell was among the NFL’s best running backs after a hot start. However, his inability to find and successfully attack holes has resulted in ineffective running as the season has progressed.

Meanwhile, Duke Johnson — the Browns’ pass-catching back — is averaging 4.8 yards per carry compared to Isaiah Crowell’s 4.2 YPC. The team does not want anything to do with a winless regular season and focusing on Johnson can help avoid that.

The Cleveland Browns now rank No. 26 among NFL teams in rushing despite a top-five start to 2016. Crowell has nearly tripled Johnson in touches thus far into the season (56 – 145) and is averaging 12.1 carries per game to Johnson’s 4.7. Although Duke is the clear favorite in the receiving game out of the backfield, he is only getting one more reception per game compared to Crowell.

Browns fans anticipated the 2015 third-rounder to see an increase in production after a decent rookie season under a terribly coached team. Johnson had only one less carry than Crowell in Week 9, showing a glimpse of hope regarding an increase in touches. However, the following two weeks he only saw two rushes each game and was out-touched 16-5 last week against the New York Giants. Crowell also saw a season-high six receptions as well.

This is not to bash on Isaiah Crowell and say he should not be involved in the Browns’ game plan moving forward. He is an NFL quality running back and should still be utilized. However, his style of running is a bit out-of-control and he runs without considering balance as a significant factor. Hence the two and three-yard gains he consistently gets by hurling himself as soon as contact and a gap presents itself.

The defense expects the ball up the middle if Crowell rushes and can collapse upon the handoff. This allows them to focus on the passing attack rather than constantly keeping an eye out for a true playmaking threat out of the backfield.

The Browns have been troubled at the quarterback position all year and that will not magically change the last five weeks of the season either. But there is a sense of predictability when Crowell enters the game. He usually goes up the middle for a low chunk of yardage. Sure, he caught six receptions in Week 12 but the defense is not as worried about Crowell in the open field as they are about Johnson.

The pure relentlessness Duke runs with is unlike many running backs, and his ability to create space in the open field is a unique mix. It prepares the defense to always keep an eye out for No. 29 to begin each play, which could open the opportunity for the receivers to make a play.

The passing game can use all the help it can get. It has been putrid for the Browns throughout 2016 and the quarterbacks can’t even stay healthy, not that any of the three starters would change the standings if healthy.

It was apparent Duke Johnson was going to be involved in the Browns’ future plans at the end of last season. It’s time they start to focus on him opposed to Isaiah Crowell simply to know what the Miami Hurricanes’ all-time leading rusher is capable of heading into the 2017 NFL Draft.

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