Chris Johnson is a philosopher of sorts. When asked about his early struggles that are a continuation of his 2011 season of woe, Johnson tried to do something he’s done very little of on the field. Evade, dodge, and avoid.
He was successful only momentarily, until he essentially but politely said what we all know to be true. His offensive line sucks.
How can such extreme suck be measured? There’s one particularly damning, frightening number which supports Johnson’s hypothesis that he’s not spending too much time dancing and darting in the backfield while being indecisive and eventually going down. That’s because he has no time to make any decision whatsoever, let alone linger on that decision. He’s getting hit in the backfield on nearly every play.
In what’s becoming a regular Friday afternoon exercise because we thoroughly enjoy depressing the hell out of you while you attempt to escape workplace obligations during the final hours of the week, let’s explore Johnson again, but this time introduce another quite staggering number within the context of his quotes from yesterday.
Johnson has only 21 rushing yards on 19 carries through two games for an average of 1.1 yards per carry. You’re aware of that, and it’s the reason why there’s a hole in your wall where the CJ1.1k poster was not too long ago. It’s also at least partly why you started crying while inexplicably eating a stick of butter yesterday when Johnson spoke about his problems, and had this to say:
“I’m not the guy to sit here and be the guy that points fingers,” Johnson said. “It’s a situation where I’m only going to be as good as my line is going to be, so we have to work together and get better together.
“I don’t think I missed no big plays or anything like that. It’s just a situation where we really haven’t had the opportunity to stay on the field and really get into the running game.”
Maybe there’s been a few situations among Johnson’s 19 carries when he could have made more of an effort to just turn and burn, and then maybe he’d have something closer to an only moderately awful three yards per carry. Progress?
But here’s what I know for sure: when you’re consistently hit behind the line of scrimmage in the NFL — or really, any professional football league anywhere that’s ever existed — gaining positive yardage is difficult. This is where a number from Johnson’s first two games emerges that’s scary, and downright haunting.
In a stat dug up by ESPN Stats and Information and mentioned Thursday by Matthew Berry on his daily fantasy podcast, Johnson has more yards after contact than he does before contact. Again, overall he has 21 yards, but after contact he’s rushed for 23 yards. Wait, what?
Yep, he has more yards after contact than he does total positive yards because he’s facing initial contact in the backfield so often. In fairness, some of that could still be on Johnson, and his inability to just choose a damn hole. But what if there is no hole, ever? A circumstance in which a runner’s yards per carry after contact (1.2) is more than his overall yards per carry (1.1) says this is a problem which goes far beyond his control.
This is the part where I look over the Titans’ remaining schedule, and tell you to buy low on Johnson because he might start to do something that resembles average NFL running back production. And sure, the only truly threatening run defenses on Tennessee’s sked are two dates with the Texans, and one with the Steelers. Beyond that the other 11 games are easy to average and maybe a bit below average matchups, so go for it and seize the day and buy low, because right now the price for Johnson is beyond low. He’s nearly free.
Which brings me to the far more important point for Johnson owners on the other end who are obstructing the buy low vultures. I realize it’s tempting to jettison a running back who still carries some name value, and get someone — anyone, anyone at all — in return who can be productive and contribute. I feel your pain, as I’m also a Johnson owner in one of my leagues. There’s a support group and we meet on Tuesdays. Punch and pie.
But what’s your motivation to trade a player who, at the moment, has essentially zero value? If you’re going to cave to your nerves and sell a player who’s struggling, you do it when you’ve projected that his tumble is starting, or he’s even in the middle of his descent. You don’t make that move when his value has bottomed out, especially not when you spent a first-round pick on Johnson, or at best a second rounder.
It’s simple economics. You’re not recouping even a fraction of that investment, and instead you’d be allowing another owner to benefit from a potential turnaround after paying an extremely minimal price.
Bench him if you can, and keep him there to minimize your frustration until CJ shows some life. Unless you can take advantage of an uncommonly good trade offer or an overzealous manager, that’s the only sensible action right now.