The face of the Tennessee Titans the past few years has been running back Chris Johnson. The East Carolina product took the league by storm when he ran for over 2,000 yards in the 2009 season and many thought that there was more in store for Johnson. But unfortunately, that has not been the case. Johnson has not topped even 1,500 yards rushing since the 2009 season and in between that time, Johnson got a new contract ahead of time that made him the highest paid running back at the time (4 years and $30 million guaranteed). From the time he received the new contract to present day, it seems like Chris has been the whipping boy for media and fans alike when it comes to the Titans. Well, Chris Johnson may not be in Nashville much longer to catch all the verbal venom. He is due $8 million next season and many expect the Titans to part ways with him instead of paying him that money. We shall see what happens, but if I am the Titans, I am not sure he is done just yet.
Recently, Johnson said in an article that he can still give a lot but he just wishes the team would use him right. A lot may disagree with the premonition, but I can understand what he is saying. Chris Johnson is one of the fastest players still in the NFL, but the way he was used the last few years gives us no indication the Titans know how fast he is. Instead of getting CJ more runs on the edges or perimeter, the Titans continued to run him in between the tackles. In my opinion, that is negating his speed. The best thing for Chris would be if he were put in space. The more he is put in space, the better Chris will be. Also, you put pressure on defenses when you put him in positions to use his speed and that makes your offense even better.
Another issue in the usage of Chris Johnson is the constant subbing. Over the years, Johnson seems to have gotten less games where he touches the ball 25 times. In the past, when he got that many attempts/touches, he made things happen. But these days, he continues to be taken out near the goal line and rarely gets the touches he used to get. It’s interesting that the Titans seemed to have forgot that Chris Johnson can pop a big run at any time when given the touches. But instead of the coaching staff never realizing that, they continue to put him on the bench for stretches at a time. Maybe that was more indicative of the coaches not knowing how to best make this team effective and hence the reason they all lost their jobs.
But the issue of Chris’ production is bigger than just Chris. Whether some want to hear this or not, he was playing with an inexperienced quarterback that opposing defenses didn’t really fear(Jake Locker). So instead of Chris seeing a normal amount of people near the line of scrimmage, Chris was seeing eight man fronts routinely. Pretty tough to ask a running back to see that constantly and do well. The only one that comes to mind in this scenario is Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. But the difference between Peterson and Johnson is their offensive lines and the offensive styles that they have been in. Peterson has always had one solid offensive line that loves nothing better than to bury opposing defenses to spring him on great runs. But in the case of Chris Johnson, he had two veteran tackles who are not great run blockers, an inconsistent highly-paid free-agent guard(Andy Livitre), a rookie right guard trying to figure everything out(Chance Warmack) and a rotating cast at center. And in regards to the tackles the Titans have(David Stewart and Michael Roos), they are not exactly the greatest in pass protection either. But getting back to the running equation of the Titans, it’s hard to ask a running back to make people miss in the backfield time and time again and then get mad at him for not gaining yards. Chris may hesitate at times on his runs, but who can fault him for some of the bad runs when the line is getting ran through like a turnstile?
Going forward the Titans not only have a decision with Johnson but with who their new coach is. Personally, I feel its time they hire an offensive-minded coach. But in the end, whoever the coach is must find some way to put Chris Johnson in a position to help instead of trying to fit a circle peg in a square hole. If the Titans are not going to try and place him in an offense that suits his skills, then it would be beneficial to let him go. And as quick as they would let him go, another team would pick him up and bring him back to being reminiscent of the guy we saw in 2009 and not the frustrated running back we see now. But if what Titans president and CEO Tommie Smith said the other day is true, he is looking for a coach to help his frustrated running back instead of one that will try to fit him in a box.
If you were the Titans, what would you do with Chris Johnson?