chris johnson ball2

It’s time to play our annual, mid-season or close to it game. You’re familiar with the result, yet each year we’re all guilty of thinking — hoping — it will change and all will be right again. Ready? OK then.

Why does Chris Johnson suck so much?

First, let’s acknowledge an obviously horrible fact of life for CJNoK right now, and for the foreseeable future: Ryan Fitzpatrick is his quarterback. That means despite the talented young receiving options assembled in Tennessee who get can deep between Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter, and the veteran presence of Nate Washington, there’s little reason for defenses to be concerned with any sailing long balls. Two weeks ago in his first start after Jake Locker’s injury, Fitzpatrick misfired on all eight attempts to connect on passes that traveled 15 yards or more through the air.

So yes, that’s horrible. But at some point, that stops mattering for a running back with Johnson’s tools and speed. Jamaal Charles has been able to chug along just fine (he has an incredible 775 total yards so far, an average of 129.2 per game) with Alex Smith as his quarterback in an offense that asks him to throw deep only when absolutely necessary.

When watching Johnson, little change is evident in his approach. There’s still backfield dancing, hesitancy, and seeking to blow up a play on every play. But that’s happened only once, and it came on a broken play in Week 5 when Fitzpatrick chucked off a shovel pass, and Johnson took it 49 yards. It was swell and all, but also stunk of fluke when that sort of yardage was once the norm for Johnson. Now it’s a glaring outlier, since if we take it away he has only one other +20 yard play on 116 touches. I suppose that’s right in line with his pace of eight such plays last year, a career single-season low, which is where we arrive back at the sad truth here. Nothing is changing for Johnson, and it’s not about to, maybe ever.

We’re all familiar with the glorious boom times when Johnson set the single-season record for yards from scrimmage in 2009, and with 2,006 rushing yards that year he’s still one of just seven running backs to top the 2,000-yard mark. How many chunky plays did he have that year? There were 22 for more than 20 yards. At his current pace this season, that will be more than his past two years combined.

Although his overall rushing yardage over the first three games this year (256 yards) looks pretty OK, that’s deceiving. He arrived there by pounding and plodding, and he’s only had one game averaging over 4.0 yards per carry (Week 3). That number has been so much worse over the past three weeks too: 1.4, 1.7, and 2.8. In all three of those games Johnson’s longest run has been in the single digits.

The suck thickens more when looking at Tennessee’s opponents. Yes, the Seahawks this past Sunday aren’t fun to run against, but between the Texans, Chiefs, and Saints, half of the Titans’ schedule thus far is ranked 20th or worse against the run, with two of those teams (Saints and Chiefs) giving up an average or 5.1 yards per carry.

Fitzpatrick isn’t helping matters, but this is a problem that existed long before his underwhelming presence, one that Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack were supposed to fix by creating more space. Instead, Johnson still is who he is: a running back far removed from years of dominance, yet by the laws of football at 28 he should still have a few productive seasons left.

He’s endlessly frustrating.

More notes, stray thoughts, and other such randomness

When keeping it real goes wrong

The Giants are really going all out with their efforts to enhance the in-game experience. Authentic Walking Dead cast members are now randomly being planted in the crowd, and they may or may not eat you.

The powers above still hate the Patriots

It could be that those who call the shots above us are Jets fans, and if so, I need to reevaluate some life choices. After an offseason receiver exodus that left Tom Brady without his top five targets from last year, both Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen have missed time in the backfield (the latter is still out), and now on the other side of the ball the hurt is spreading too.

First it was defensive anchor Vince Wilfork crumbling and lost for the season, and now Jerod Mayo could be gone for the year too with a torn pectoral muscle suffered this past Sunday during a win over New Orleans. Ruh roh.

That awfulness was relayed by Yahoo’s Les Carpenter last night, who cited several Boston area sources. Mayo is currently the Patriots’ leading tackler, and combined with the loss of Wilfork, his absence is downright crippling for a front seven that had already taken a step back against the run compared to last year. The Patriots’ per game rushing yardage allowed had fallen from 101.9 to 118.8. Suddenly, Bilal Powell is looking like a much better fantasy RB2 this weekend.

(UPDATE: It’s official now. Mayo has been placed on the injured reserve, and his season is over)

Keep those blissful Graham injury reports coming, boys

Mmmmmmmm…

That bounced around computer screens and blinking pockets yesterday afternoon, and it echoes Chris Mortensen’s optimism Monday. Although the lack of any official word is still a little unsettling, the stream of unofficial words from highly trusted sources is quite comforting, especially since the reports are coming early this week, and long before Graham has to endure the rigors of football again following the Saints’ bye.

Wanted: A Browns quarterback

In the olden times, fans had little recourse to demand change other than not showing up at home games, or saying the word “boooo”, which evidently provides some form of self satisfaction. Now those same fans can post job applications to the Internet’s connecting tubes, like this Craigslist request for a Browns quarterback:

Hello, and thanks for reading.
Have you played pro football? College ball? Highschool? Pee-wee?
Have you played Madden before?
Do you sort of kind of know some of the rules of football? If yes keep reading. If no…well also keep reading! We will take ANYONE. This could turn into a regular gig for the right person.
The Cleveland Browns as you may have noticed are having problems scoring points on offense consistently. We are deciding that we actually want to win this year and that we have a real shot at it too. 3 wins in 6 games!? We were expecting maybe 1/3 of those wins for the whole year, but SOMEHOW we have a shot still. Here’s the thing…our defense is sick nasty, but we’ve got problems under center…well one problem. Brandon Weeden. If you’re sick of seeing desperation heaves to the sidelines, countless sacks after superb coverage, and underhanded lightly tossed interceptions in the 4th quarter then please come apply! If you can throw a ball, come apply! If you can’t, come anyway! We can teach you the basics….throwing the ball to the guy who has the same color shirt as you. Throwing the ball reasonably close to a receiver that’s WIDE OPEN, throwing the ball more than 3 yards on 3rd and 16. Think you got what it takes? Come on down! You’re the next contestant on Cleveland Quarterbacks!
Please no redheads, people named Brett, or any U. Of Florida alum.

But, but…can you shoot down a clay thing?

And now, your daily truth talk

I will never complain about football on my television, but let’s be real here: Thursday night games have generally sucked. My former colleague in football blog talk Brad Gagnon recently did some number crunching, and found that on average there’s been nearly one turnover per game more on Thursday nights than the rest of the week, and worse, the number of games within nine points falls by 20 percent.

But what’s always been strange is that in a league doing everything in its power to hover over player safety through rules changes and modifications to medical protocol, players are still trotted out on short rest every week. Anquan Boldin doesn’t approve:

“There are some things that just don’t make sense to me. I mean if you’re so concerned about player safety, then why do you have every team in the league playing on Thursday night when they just competed on a Sunday, knowing how difficult it is for guys to get back to being healthy after playing on Sunday? Guys really don’t feel like they’re back till probably Thursday or Friday to prepare for that next week.”

Each week there are marquee players who simply can’t heal in time to play (like Charles Tillman last week), so the lack of recovery time lowers the on-field product. But since the NFL is a business and it’s become a damn filthy rich one because the men who run it thoroughly enjoy money, Thursday night games aren’t going anywhere.

As noted by the National Football Post, in the second full season of Thursday nighters the league is seeing a 27 percent increase in viewership with the games averaging 8.1 million eyeballs, and last week’s game between the Bears and the winless Giants beat out playoff baseball by 1.7 million.

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