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Titans-Jags: Runs up the middle

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Titans-Jaguars games create a lot of debate over who's the better back: Chris Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew? Who’ll have the better game?

Jones-Drew

Johnson

ESPN Stats & Information offers some great info about what each running back has been able to do up the middle this season, and that’s something we should pay attention to Sunday at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.

While we’ve documented Johnson’s propensity to fail to gain or lose yards on carries so far this year, he’s also hit home runs dashing through the middle of a defense.

Johnson versus the Jaguars interior run defense looks to be a lopsided matchup. Johnson is averaging 12 yards per carry up the middle of the defense, the best in the league. The Jaguars' defense, meanwhile, is yielding 5.6 yards a carry up the middle, which is 30th in the league.

On the other side of the ball, the Titans' defense has been one of the best at stopping the run up the middle. Jones-Drew has been one of the best interior runners in the early weeks, and he's attempted more rushes up the middle than any other back (29 attempts for 212 yards, 7.3 ypc). Those 29 carries up the middle account for 51 percent of his carries and 75 percent of his yards.

Tennessee's defense is giving up only 1.1 yard per carry up the middle, second-best in the league.

MJD’s ability to be effective late in his first season and the featured back for the Jaguars is an issue we will monitor. The Jags might want to trim that interior carry percentage in the hopes of keeping him fresher longer, but they aim to be a physical, force-the-issue run team.

I think they’d benefit from spreading things out a bit more often to keep defenses guessing and to get Jones-Drew the ball in different situations where he’s not dealing with defensive tackles as often.

Jacksonville found a way to do that with great effect last week with the end-arounds and fake end-arounds to Mike Thomas in Houston. But it’s fair to expect the Titans to be more disciplined against those plays than the Texans were. Perhaps Jacksonville’s offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter comes up with another new wrinkle.