Chris Johnson underperforming in 2011

One of the notable storylines in first three weeks of the NFL season – especially for fantasy football owners – is the poor start by Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson.

Chris Johnson

JohnsonAfter averaging more than four yards per attempt last year and ranking fourth in the NFL in total rushing yards, Johnson is averaging just 2.1 yards per carry this season, second-lowest in the league among all qualifiers. He has yet to reach the end zone and has surpassed the 50-yard mark in just one game.

How dramatic has this drop-off been for Johnson, who had rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each of his three previous seasons?

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only other player in NFL history to have that low a yards-per-carry through his first three games of a season -- coming off even two-or-more consecutive 1,000-yard seasons -- was the Bengals’ Corey Dillon in 2000.

Johnson also has been known as one of the most explosive backs in the league. From 2009-10, he had 35 rushes of at least 20 yards, which was 14 more than the next-closest player, Adrian Peterson.

He has zero runs of 20-plus yards this season, and doesn’t even have a 10-yard rush. Elias also tell us that in his three NFL seasons prior to 2011, Johnson had never played even two consecutive games without a rush of at least 10 yards.

Chris Johnson Rushing
2+ RB Formations, Since 2009

Part of what made Johnson such a threat in the open field was his ability to get out on the edges. Last year, he averaged five yards per carry on rushes outside the numbers and his 19 first downs on those runs was tied for third-most in the league. This year he’s averaging a yard per carry and has no first downs.

One issue that might be affecting Johnson is that his fullback, Ahmard Hall, was suspended for the first four games, and the Titans have had to use Quinn Johnson. The two backs have not clicked so far, as Johnson is averaging less than a yard per rush in two-running back formations this season.

Johnson should have a good opportunity to get back on track this week, as the Titans will be facing a Browns defense that is allowing 128.7 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 29th out of 32 NFL teams this year.