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Browns Mailbag

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Browns Mailbag: How will D'Ernest Johnson be utilized down the home stretch?

Senior Writer Andrew Gribble answers your questions every week

We're working through the bye week because The Mail. Never. Stops.

Let's tackle four of your questions in this week's edition of the Browns Mailbag.

How many wide receivers were active against the Ravens? If the game plan was to throw the ball, why have Higgins a "healthy" scratch, especially if there is chemistry with him and Mayfield? — Elmer L., Bangor, Maine

The Browns dressed four wide receivers for Sunday's game in Baltimore: Jarvis Landry, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Ja'Marcus Bradley and JoJo Natson. Anthony Schwartz was out for a second consecutive game with a concussion and Rashard Higgins was a healthy scratch. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski was asked multiple times about this decision and said special teams was among the major factors that not only went into that particular decision, but also applies to most others that have to do with healthy scratches.

Natson was called up from the practice squad and handled kick return duties. He also played two snaps on offense. Bradley, who has seen his role expand in recent weeks, played 21 offensive snaps and six special teams snaps. Landry and Peoples-Jones both played more than 75 percent of the offensive snaps.

"The inactives, it is a puzzle that you work on each week based on who you think you need, and special teams factors majorly into that," Stefanski said.

With the apparent parity in the division and NFL in general, how many games do you think the Browns must win to make the playoffs? A perfect answer would be "all of them" but realistically, how many wins 'get you in'? — John Richard J., Fayetteville, North Carolina

"All of them" certainly gives the Browns the best chance of not only making the playoffs, but also winning the division. It's important to note the Browns have three division games remaining and four games, total, within the AFC. A lot can happen over the next month-plus, and the Browns' margin for error has become thinner following Sunday's loss. But when the team returns from the bye and hits the field for Week 14 against the Ravens, they'll still be very much in the mix and capable of putting themselves right back in the thick of things. The team simply needs to make a run after rotating between wins and losses each week since Week 7.

"I think we have a prideful group, and I think we have guys who want to compete and guys who play hard. It is not a lack of effort out there. It is the National Football League. You never know what is going to happen," G Joel Bitonio said. "We have to come out and get better this bye week and then get ready for Baltimore again, watch some games this weekend and see what we can do. You are not in the right profession if it gets hard like that because it is the NFL and everything is hard. I think we are focused. I think we had good meetings today, and we are going to be refocused after this bye week."

Check out the best photos from the Browns game against the Ravens yesterday by the Browns photo team

Have the Browns been more effective running the ball when a fullback is on the active roster and the ball is spread around to multiple receivers? — Rob M., Fairmont, West Virginia

The Browns almost always have a fullback on the active roster with Sunday serving as the rare exception. Stefanski explained that decision Monday as well.

"Kareem is coming back and there are guys coming off of injury," Stefanski said. "Andy is healthy. We think very highly of him. We just felt like that was the right thing to do for that game."

The Browns have cleared 180 rushing yards on five different occasions. In all five of those games, the Browns had at least five players catch multiple passes. It peaked in Week 7, when the Browns rushed for 182 yards and had seven different players catch at least two passes. When the ball is getting spread around and the running backs are picking up yards by the bundle on the ground, they're very tough to stop. That's what the team will be looking to recapture after the bye as it embarks on its final five games.

"When we spend some time looking at it and pulling it apart, the first thing we are going to say is, 'All right, what are we good at? Can we do that more? How can we add nuance to it? How can we add wrinkles to it?'" Stefanski said. "Then what are we not so good at and can we get better at that? Can we do that play type or whatever it may be?' If the answer is yes, then we are going to spend some time finding ways to do it. If the answer is that is just not who we are, then we are going to move on and look for something better.

"I think that is just where this bye week can be a deep dive into really who we are."

I'm glad Hunt is coming back. Anyway they can use Johnson more? That guy is good. He had two great games this year. — Mike D., Farrell, Pennsylvania

You're right about how good Johnson is, and he's proven it every time he's gotten the opportunity. We got our first glimpse at how the Browns might use Johnson with both Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb back in the lineup Sunday in Baltimore. He played six snaps on offense and saw his special teams snaps go back up with 12 (His special teams workload was lightened when he was the feature back). Johnson was on the field for the Browns' final drive of the game when Hunt's calf tightened up on him, and the Browns were throwing on every down.

"We are going to go in with our two guys for sure, and we are happy that D'Ernest was as productive as he was," offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said last week. "He has done a great job. I think he will get some other opportunities on special teams to be productive, as well, but really love our three backs right there."

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