Running backs always look to hit the century mark in yards over the course of a regular season, hoping to establish themselves as one of the better players at their position. Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans did that in 2010, but unlike most backs who reach that goal, he followed that up with a disappointing season, finishing with only only 1,047 yards at four yards per carry, which is below the league average of 4.4, and a measly four touchdowns — more than two times lower than his total in his rookie season.
What’s worse is that his 2011 totals were a far cry from his 2009 season, when he had 16 touchdowns and set the record for yards gained from the line of scrimmage, topping 2,000 yards on the ground. So what went wrong with “CJ2K” in 2011?
The truth is that it was a myriad of issues that stemmed from his off-season holdout. Johnson held out for a long-term contract prior to the start of last season and consequently, had issues gelling with his teammates, particularly with the guys who block for him.
He admits he and his offensive line still need to “get on the same page,” while also noting a few of his own hesitations have contributed to the lack of a big play — or even a touchdown — at this point.
His hesitations were noticeable at times last season, as he often just seemed to take too long to get out of the backfield, which resulted in several missed open alleys. It appeared that the lack of training camp repetitions and a preseason effected his feel for the game, which is crucial because in most cases, the RB anchors the offensive line.
Unfortunately for him, his offensive line wasn’t particularly good either, as he essentially stated when he said “”It’s not a ‘me’ thing — it’s a whole team thing,” and the weakness of his O-line is arguably the biggest reason why he struggled. An example of this issue came against the Denver Broncos in week 3 when the Titans came out with 21 personnel, featuring 2 backs and 1 tight end.
Out of this personnel package, the Titans ran a Power concept to the closed side, which is where the tight end is aligned on the right. On this play, Johnson was led by the fullback to his right and the left guard, who pulled from the backside.
Once the blockers got out in front of him without any problems occurring in the backfield, the play developed potential to be dangerous because Johnson was patient with the ball. If the blocks were executed properly, he’d be able to get into open space where he does his most damage.
However, the blockers didn’t do their job once they identified their targets. The fullback, who was supposed to pin the strong side linebacker back to the inside, failed to do his job. Instead of pinning him inside, he allowed the defender to get inside of him which meant that Johnson was immediately forced outside.
Unfortunately, the block that was suppose to be executed to the outside failed to develop as well. The backside, pulling guard took too tight of an angle while looking to engage with the blocker, and consequently he missed him entirely.
This meant that Johnson had nowhere to go because he was forced back inside by the defender–the same defender that the pulling guard failed to block–and due to a poor block from the fullback, Johnson had no running lane to the inside either.
The lack of execution from the offensive line is unacceptable on this type of concept because it is one that, like every other team, the Titans use as part of their base run package. Tennessee’s blocking is the first thing that needs to improve, but not far behind is the play of Johnson.
As noted, he was hesitant at times last season, which resulted in him missing open alleys that the offensive line created when they did block well. But he’s worked hard this off-season to improve his overall game by putting on weight and attending practices regularly.
Now we’ll wait and see.