By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Browns starting running back Willis McGahee sat out practice Thursday to rest his surgically repaired knees.
A Browns spokesman said the organization’s plan all along has been to give McGahee rest and there is no new knee injury to report. The spokesman said McGahee is probable to practice today, and he doesn’t expect there to be a problem with McGahee playing Sunday when the Browns (3-3) visit the Green Bay Packers (3-2).
That would be good news for the Browns because offensive coordinator Norv Turner and coach Rob Chudzinski have hinted the offense needs to run the ball well to support quarterback Brandon Weeden.
The Browns had 16 carries for 115 yards (7.2 average) in the first half against the Detroit Lions before running only five times for 11 yards (2.2 average) in the second half. The Lions prevailed 31-17 after outscoring the Browns 24-0 in the final two quarters.
When asked Thursday how the Browns can schematically support Weeden, Turner said: “You look at the things we did in the first half. That’s a good defensive football team and to have the production we did as an offense, we did a lot of good things. Now we have to be able to do that through four quarters.”
The offense converted just 2-of-7 first downs after halftime, and Weeden’s back-handed, shovel-pass interception in the fourth quarter allowed the Lions to seal the win.
“We’ll do some things from a scheme standpoint to accentuate the things [Weeden] does really well and adjust some of the things we’re doing,” Chudzinski said. “I believe in the balance that you want to have as an offense, and that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen all the time. But we want to be able to run the football and throw the football. I think when you get one dimensional, it’s just not going to be in our best interest or give us the best chance to win.”
McGahee, who will turn 32 Monday, rode a stationary bike and worked out on the side with a trainer during the 30-minute portion of practice open to the media. He practiced Wednesday and was not listed on the injury report.
As a member of the Denver Broncos last season, McGahee suffered a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee and fractured his lower right leg against the San Diego Chargers on Nov. 18, 2012. He sat out the 2003 season after suffering torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee in a Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State for the 2002 BCS championship.
In four games this season, McGahee has 59 carries for 164 yards (2.8 average) and one touchdown to go along with a catch for 2 yards. McGahee signed with the Browns Sept. 19, the day after the organization traded running back Trent Richardson, the third overall pick in last year’s draft, to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for a 2014 first-round selection.
If McGahee experiences an unexpected issue this weekend, the team also has Chris Ogbonnaya, Bobby Rainey and Fozzy Whittaker in its running backs committee.
Turner, though, believes McGahee has something left in the tank and even joked about it when he was asked if the two-time Pro Bowler can run outside.
“Well, he can get outside, but I think he has to go inside to get there,” Turner said. “We have an unusual situation. We’re making the best out of it. McGahee’s giving us plays. Ogbonnaya’s giving us plays. We’ve got Bobby giving us some plays. Now we’re going to use Fozzy a little bit and see how he does. No question it’s a group effort.”
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton and Turner lamented the team’s problems on third down, and Chudzinski said his staff met this week to study the trends.
“If we could fix the doggone third downs, you guys wouldn’t ask me a question,” Horton said.
The defense is ranked 29th in the NFL in third-down efficiency, allowing opponents to convert 41-of-93 (44.1 percent). The offense is ranked 25th in third-down efficiency, converting 32-of-93 (34.4 percent).
The problems on third down are most glaring in the second half, especially for the defense. It’s one of the reasons the Browns have been outscored 82-40 after halftime this season, including 55-3 in their three losses.
In those three defeats, the Browns’ opponents converted 8-of-23 (34.8 percent) third downs in the first half and 16-of-23 (70 percent) in the second half.
“Do I think the calls are wrong?” Horton said. “No, I know those aren’t wrong, but I have to get on guys to play faster than what’s going on because there’s no way you can tell me that the first half some team is doing something different because I keep saying nobody has shocked us by coming out in a Wildcat or empty or five wides or something like that. We know what’s going on. The first half kind of proves it. Nobody has made a dramatic, glaring adjustment at halftime where another team comes out and changes what they do. So it really comes down to focus. Are we out there too long? Do we have to change calls? Do we need fresher bodies? All those things are being looked at.”
Turner defended Weeden’s performance Sunday and said he doesn’t have a desire to give backup quarterback Jason Campbell a shot in the aftermath.
“I don’t think anyone at halftime would have said, ‘God, let’s see how Jason can do in the second half,’ ” Turner said. “That temptation isn’t there for me.”
Turner isn’t giving up on Weeden just because of his awkward flip interception against the Lions. He pointed out that he’s seen Pro Bowl and Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks make the same pass and have it intercepted and returned for a touchdown.
“He’s not the first guy I’ve seen throw a ball like that,” Turner said. “Obviously when it happens, I think he feels worse than anybody. It’s a mistake that’s correctable. Obviously Brandon was trying to make a play.
“It’s not excusable for anyone, and it doesn’t make it right that someone else has done it. But we’re going to eliminate it.”
Horton said he has “no issue” with the way backup outside linebacker Quentin Groves tackled Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford when he was penalized for roughing the passer in the fourth quarter. … Horton said he’s not concerned that starting outside linebacker Paul Kruger has only one sack through six games. … Backup defensive end Billy Winn (quadriceps) did not practice. Rookie safety Josh Aubrey (ankle/knee) was added to the injury report and listed as a limited participant in practice.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.