CJ sees holes, thinks fast in retooled Titans' run game

If it seems that Chris Johnson has run more decisively through the first three games of the preseason, it might just be because that is the case.

His coach believes the Tennessee Titans running back has spent less time trying to decide where to go. Adjustments to the scheme and changes to offensive line personnel have produced the desired results.

“I think the holes have been better, so I think it allows the confidence to grow and the decisiveness to be what it has been,” Mike Munchak said Tuesday. “So that has shown, I think. The first three weeks has been a cleaner look for him.”

In the last two years, Johnson has been criticized for the number of runs that lost yards, particularly on first down. Too often those plays put the offense in difficult down-and-distance situations.

According to FootballOutsiders.com, the Titans were stopped for no gain or a loss on 24 percent of all of their running plays in 2012. Only four teams were worse in that regard. In 2011 it happened at the same rate, and that year only three teams were worse.

Given that the same five offensive linemen started all but one game in 2011 (right tackle David Stewart missed one) but injuries decimated that unit last fall, the consistency in that regard suggests the struggles had more to do with the design of the running plays than with who tried to make them work.

One of first-year offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains’ aims in retooling the playbook, therefore, was to make the Titans a more effective running team.

“It was a different play-caller, a different way we were doing things,” Munchak said. “Last year, I thought he had a period where [Johnson] ran the ball as good as anyone for a six-seven week period. But, then we weren’t consistent enough from the start to finish.”

In 20 carries this preseason, Johnson has been stopped for no gain three times and for a loss just once, a loss of one yard on his last attempt last Saturday against Atlanta. Two of the carries for no gain came in obvious run situations at Cincinnati (second-and-2 and second-and-3).

On first down he has carried 12 times for 121 yards, which includes his 58-yard touchdown run against Washington, a 17-yard gain against Cincinnati and a 19-yard run versus Atlanta.

Free agent Shonn Greene has 16 carries and has yet to be stopped for no gain or worse. He has six first-down rushes for 48 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown run.

“You can … see what we’ve been doing game-in and game-out in the preseason,” Johnson said. “It’s only preseason but it gives you a preview of the things we’re going to try to do and the things we’re going to try to stick to.”

So far he’s had no reason to think twice about it.