“I still believe in Isaiah Crowell,” coach Hue Jackson said pointedly. “Crow just needs to get the ball in his hands.”
Jackson’s statement came in response to a question about starting Duke Johnson, given that Crowell has just 134 rushing yards in the team’s first four games. Running game coordinator Kirby Wilson said that Johnson’s role will not increase, that Crowell, who has 46 carries, will still be the team’s main back.
“Everyone can’t get 15 carries,” Wilson said.
The Browns clearly seem to like Johnson as the change-of-pace back and receiver out of the backfield.
“Duke has a specific role, and we go into every game plan every week trying to get him his touches,” Wilson said. “He does a great job with his touches. He plays sometimes 40, anywhere from 40 to 55 percent of the game depending on what kind of packages we are in, the score and the situation.
“He is getting his opportunities," Wilson said.
To Wilson, Crowell’s difficulties have come from a lack of consistent carries and a lack of production on the carries he is getting.
“The efficiency has been sporadic, and he is trying to do the right things with the football,” Wilson said.
Crowell was one of the first Browns players to leave the locker room following Sunday’s loss to the Bengals. He said earlier this season that he believes he can help the team with more touches.
“I think we all were mad and wanted to storm out of the locker room Sunday, so I won’t hold that against anyone,” Wilson said. “He just has to continue to believe in that, that if I just do my job, it is a long season and the success will come.”
The Browns have talked since the offseason about committing to the run, but they have yet to do it. Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer has thrown 142 passes, and Crowell, Johnson and rookie Matthew Dayes have combined for 60 runs.
The website teamrankings.com reports that the Browns have called pass plays 67.44 percent of the time, the fifth-highest pass ratio in the league.
The Browns aren't getting much out of the carries, either. Crowell is averaging 2.9 yards per attempt, and while Johnson is more productive, the two combined are averaging 3.4 yards per carry.
Teams clearly are defending the Browns by selling out to stop the run, which forces more passes. But the Browns’ receivers are struggling so much that teams blitz the passing game without fearing the Browns will make them pay. The running game needs to improve, but the passing game would help it improve by being more productive.
“I don’t think you’ve seen our running game yet,” Jackson said. “It’s still a work in progress. But we’re going to get there.”