Interpreting runs for no gain

For a devout run team, runs for no gain can actually be purposeful. A team’s not happy to get them, of course. But it believes such runs say, “You may stop us sometimes, but more often than not we’ll get you.”

When the Titans struggled early last year, I looked closely at Chris Johnson's propensity for runs for no gain or losses.

Even in a 2,000-yard season in which the Titans rebounded to finish 8-8, Pro Football Focus says Johnson had no gain on 22.6 percent of his carries -- the 14th highest number in the NFL.

The Titans swallowed those because Johnson’s home-run potential (heck, grand-slam potential, really) more than offset the no-gain runs in the big picture.

But the two worst backs in the league at getting beyond the line of scrimmage didn’t create such offsets. And what do Donald Brown (29.8 percent) and Steve Slaton (29 percent) have in common?

Well neither got a full load of carries, as Brown worked behind Joseph Addai and Slaton’s season was cut short by a neck injury. Both their teams finished better than the Titans, too. And that was largely because they each had far more threatening pass attacks centered around Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub.

The Titans might try to rebound from a no gain or loss by giving the ball to Johnson again. Indianapolis and Houston could better afford no gains on the ground knowing they’d be able to make up for the missed yardage in the air.

PFF shared its larger spreadsheet on no gains with me.

Other players of note in the division with at least 100 carries: Ryan Moats got no yards on 17.8 percent of his carries, Maurice Jones-Drew 18.9 percent, Addai 20.1 percent,

Slaton recently appeared on KILT in Houston and talked about his recovery from neck surgery and his intention to play lighter, as he did in a big rookie season.