NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In Oakland’s Rashad Jennings, the Tennessee Titans will see the NFL’s best back after contact. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Jennings is averaging a league-best 2.69 yards after he's hit.
In Tennessee’s Chris Johnson, the Raiders will see one of the NFL’s worst backs after contact. Johnson ranks 46th, with an average of 1.16 yards after contact.
Johnson is fantastic when given a big hole, and can run away from people as well as anyone in the league. But those chances are rare. A back who can consistently chug for a bit extra after the first defender arrives has a different value.
“You work on it as much as you can during practice, in drills, but it’s still hard to simulate that,” coach Mike Munchak said of yards after contact for a back. “You drill it, breaking tackles, but as far as helping him, there’s not really much we can do for him. The more opportunities you get, the better you get.”
Said Johnson: “It's different breaking tackles when your feet are stopped. Anytime you can get downhill and get the momentum going forward, it makes it that much easier to break tackles. That's just something I have to work on. If nothing is there, just keep my momentum going forward.”
I don’t know that Johnson’s going to get much better at regularly gaining yards after contact. He’s in his sixth season. His skills are his skills, and his style is his style.
What’s the thinking from an offensive line perspective?
“Obviously getting yards after contact is always a great thing,” Titans left guard Andy Levitre said. “If you can get them, yeah. You assume that when they make contact they are going to run through as much as they can, as hard as they can. Just like when we fit a block, we’re going to run through that guy as hard as we can, too. I’m sure the running backs have an expectation of us running through a block. Ideally, yeah, but realistically it’s not going to happen every play.”
Johnson’s second touchdown against the Colts was a rare sort of run for him. At the 3-yard line, he dropped his shoulder into safety Antoine Bethea, drove him back and then spun and lunged over him for the 7-yard score.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said during the game broadcast that it might have been Johnson’s best run in three years.
Johnson rates the run as a rare chance.
“Of course it gives you a shot of energy,” he said. “But I think out of my whole career that was like, if not the only one, there's only been a couple where I was in a situation like that. And I just kind of took advantage of it. It was kind of like a one-on-one, me versus him.”