NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Chris Johnson negotiated a big contract by selling himself as a playmaker who transcends his position. Six games into the 2013 season, the Tennessee Titans running back is averaging 3.1 yards per carry.
Johnson isn’t finding space to run, isn’t making people miss and isn’t breaking off the sort of big plays the team needs from him.
The Titans aren’t even relying on the home run coming. They are just looking for a better batting average.
“We can’t bank on the big run coming, we haven’t had one yet in CJ terms, what that is,” coach Mike Munchak said. “We’re more concerned with the efficient runs.”
“Like I said after the Pittsburgh game or when we were 3-1 we were getting efficient runs on third-and-1, fourth-and-1, plays like that. So you could like with that we were getting 3 yards 4 yards, we didn’t mind that because we were being efficient. We were staying on the field, we were controlling the game, all those things were to our advantage.
"Now the last two weeks that hasn’t happened. We got stopped on third-and-1, we got stopped on fourth-and-1 at the goal line, that’s the part that’s hard to take. We’re not staying on the field, and in turn, we’re not getting to wear the defense down at all. So they’re fresh coming out every time.”
But facing a fresh defense isn’t the biggest problems for the Titans offense.
We keep hitting the same thing, but six games into a season featuring a revamped offensive line, the Titans are hardly winning up front as regularly and as big as they expected when they added free agent left guard Andy Levitre, drafted right guard Chance Warmack in the first round and saw Rob Turner win the starting center job in camp.
In their last three games, the Titans have run for 78, 105 and 66 yards. Take out the quarterback runs and Tennessee has averaged 2.7 yards a carry over those three games.
“We’re working, we’ll say that,” Johnson said when asked about running lanes. “We’re working.”
Even while not running effectively, defenses have not backed off of the Titans.
“They still respect the run game, you’d think they wouldn’t, you think they’d say, ‘Hey, let’s play two-high (safeties) and not have eight guys in the box,’” Munchak said. “But that’s not how it is. So if we put three receivers out there, they stay in their base defense because they figure that’s our lifeline. If we get the running game going, all sorts of doors open. I’d do the same thing personally.”
But if the run game can’t open the doors, the Titans need to be ready, willing and able to bust them down with passes, even if they include a large dose of screens, short stuff and check downs.
A short pass that gets the Titans to second-and-4 or second-and-2 amounts to a run, Munchak said. So how about turning to more of those?
With different guys taking turns missing the defender who winds up making the tackle, they need to at least create enough push where Johnson will have room to run away from that tackler.
Shonn Greene, out since the opener with a knee injury, is better suited for a lot of the interior runs Dowell Loggains has kept calling to no avail. Greene will step up football work Wednesday and has a chance to play. He may be able to help.
Whoever is or isn’t ready to carry the ball, don’t expect the Titans to stray from their commitment to run. It’s what they’re built for, and especially with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm, they can’t simply turn into a pass-first team.
Even with Jake Locker in the lineup, Tennessee’s passing game is built around having a real run threat.
They have to fight to challenge defenses that way.
“You have to beat down some of these guys,” Munchak said. “You’re not just going to get a big run. You have to earn it. And we’re not earning it.”