Much of Mike Munchak’s Monday press conference was a search for explanations and/or answers about why the running game in general and running back Chris Johnson specifically have struggled.
A number of potential causes were raised. Among them:
• The injury to free agent running back Shonn Greene that has kept him out since early in the opener.
• Less-than-expected production from the revamped interior of the offensive line.
• The injury to Jake Locker, which has kept the starting quarterback out of the last two games.
• Ill-conceived situational substitutions.
• The thinking that went into recent gameplans.
“It’s not an easy answer,” Munchak finally said. “I know people want an easy answer. I wish I had an easy answer. This is a tough one because then it’s figuring out how do you fix it.”
Actually, there is an easy answer. There’s always an easy answer.
Occam’s Razor is a principle applied in both science and philosophy that “assumptions introduced to explain a thing must not be multiplied beyond necessity, and hence the simplest of several hypotheses is always the best in accounting for unexplained facts.”
In this case the simplest explanation is that Johnson is not the running back everybody wants him to be or thinks he ought to be.
Four years later everyone – Titans coaches included – still views him as a 2,000-yard rusher. The fact is, though, that he does not actually fit the profile. He never did.
Of the seven players who have done it he is the only one who plays, or played at fewer than 200 pounds. Four of the other six (Eric Dickerson, Adrian Peterson, Barry Sanders and O.J. Simpson) led the league in rushing at least once before they ran for 2,000. The other two (Terrell Davis and Jamal Lewis) each had topped 1,300 yards twice in advance of the milestone.
As time passes, CJ’s 2,000-yard season comes more and more into focus as an aberration similar to Buster Douglas’ knockout of Mike Tyson, a certain Bucky Dent home run or the U.S. Hockey Team’s upset of Russia at the 1980 Winter Olympics.
In his four NFL seasons outside of 2009, CJ has averaged 1,220.5 yards and only once did he for as many as 1,250 (he had 1,364 in 2010). Thus, realistic expectations are for him to finish with somewhere between 1,200 and 1,300 yards, which still is a solid number, but keep in mind CJ gets his yards in chunks. His NFL record six touchdown runs of 80 yards or more (twice what any other player ever has managed) speaks to that fact.
Consider that of the 16 100-yard games he has had since the start of 2010, 12 have included at least one run of 30 yards or more, and three of the last four have included a run of 80 yards or more.
Simply put: CJ is a home run hitter. He’ll deliver some real highlights, but don’t expect him to hit for average or count on him to deliver when situational play is required.
Which brings us back to the current state of affairs.
As they prepare for Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers (3:05 p.m. LP Field, Fox) the Tennessee Titans are tied for 17th in rushing, tied for 22nd in yards per carry and 20th in percentage of runs for first downs. Those numbers could be worse. Yet for an offense theoretically built around the running game and its self-described “playmaker” of a running back they’re decidedly underwhelming.
On top of that there are nine running backs in the league with at least 100 carries thus far in 2013. Johnson, with 106, is the only one of the group that has not run for at least 400 yards. At 327, he’s not actually that close.
So while everyone continues to look high and low to try and explain why the Titans’ running game isn’t better, the answer might really be as simple as the fact that it’s as good as the guy who is running the ball.
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