Freddie Kitchens' first game unleashes Duke Johnson

BEREA, Ohio – Duke Johnson had a season high in receptions in Sunday’s loss to Kansas City, Nick Chubb a season high in carries.

It may have been game circumstance, but in Freddie Kitchens' first game as the Cleveland Browns' offensive coordinator, the two running backs were more involved, something that had not happened all season, for reasons not totally understood.

Chubb had 22 carries and Johnson nine receptions in the loss. The trend for Chubb has been consistent since Carlos Hyde was traded, but for Johnson to get nine receptions was significant to the Browns' offense and to fantasy leagues around the nation.

Johnson caught every pass thrown to him, and the nine catches more than doubled his season. The targets and receptions were more than he had the previous two games combined.

The 78 yards were a season high as well, as were his two touchdowns – Johnson’s first of the season. It all came against the NFL's 28th-ranked total and rushing defense, but they mattered, and they all counted.

Did Johnson attribute his increased output to the fact Kitchens called plays and not Todd Haley?

“I guess you can look at it that way,” Johnson said.

Which doesn’t sound exactly definitive.

“It’s typically the same offense,” Johnson said. “Like I said before, the things that Freddie likes or Coach Kitchens likes may be different than what Coach Haley likes. So ... I guess so.”

Against Kansas City Johnson showed the ability that allowed him to top 1,000 total yards in 2016.

He caught a short throw on fourth-and-2 and turned it into a 23-yard gain.

On a second-and-2 he broke a tackle to score on a 19-yard reception.

And on a third-and-5 he turned another short throw into a touchdown.

Johnson’s versatility is his strength. Though he may not have the breakaway speed of a Kareem Hunt, he can be a valuable piece out of the backfield. Prior to Sunday, Johnson had three games with four catches and five with two or fewer, including a week earlier at Pittsburgh.

But Johnson was not about to look back and say the Browns would have more wins if he had gotten the ball more sooner.

“Granted I could have been used differently and Chubb could have been used differently,” Johnson said. “But then something else could go wrong. Or something else could happen or we still don’t get a call or we still have a bad call. So that’s tough to say. I just think me and Chubb playing the way we are, we need to keep it up just to give us a chance to win.”

Chubb had 16 carries total in the Browns first six games. At that point, Hyde was the feature back. But Hyde was traded to Jacksonville the Friday before the game in Tampa.

Chubb’s carries since have been 18, 18 and 22. He has averaged 4 yards per carry in those games, and (attention fantasy folks) scored two touchdowns to match the two he scored on big runs in Oakland.

“It’s about giving (Chubb) opportunities to show what he can do,” Johnson said. “And we did that (Sunday).”

Johnson, though, was more focused on the 2-6-1 record, not on his nine receptions.

He said no team should believe in moral victories and added something similar to what Hue Jackson said a year ago after a loss in London: The Browns have to be nearly perfect to win.

“That’s been the story of our season is we had to play as close to perfect as possible for whatever reasons,” Johnson said. “Again, can’t afford to get fired, so I won’t say the reasons. But for more than one reason we always have to find a way to play perfect.”

Johnson knows the Browns have more talent than in the winless 2016. He also knows they have lost four in a row.

“That’s been the story since I’ve been here,” he said. “We’re always talented. We always have the talent. We always have pieces here, not pieces there.

“It’s about finding a way.”

To win.

The best season Johnson has had as a Brown came when he was a rookie in 2015 and the team went 3-13.

The Browns record since Johnson arrived: 6-50-1.