The Curious Case of Chris Johnson

I can't believe it's come to this.

I have long been a defender and supporter of Chris Johnson as the Titans RB. Anyone who can rush for 2,000 yards in a season and set the record for most offensive yards from scrimmage deserves respect and appreciation. For the past few seasons, I stood behind him and defended him to critics, because of the fact that he gave the Titans a little bit of relevance 4 seasons ago. He did it by putting his name next to greats such as Barry Sanders, OJ Simpson, and Eric Dickerson. He did it by becoming a fantasy football dogbone that owners slobbered over. I've worn his jersey, bought his bobbleheads, and clung to hope (and even argued) that he'll one day return to his 2009 form eventually.

He was the most explosive back in the league, with the ability to shed tackles, visibly separate from defenders chasing him down, and even take big hits and get up smiling afterward. He hardly missed a game and was always reliable in terms of health, for the most part.

He also did his job as a civilian and a good person, never getting into trouble, and even protecting Kenny Britt a few times out in public when Britt found himself in not-so-ideal situations.

But I don't know what's happened in the course of four years. Where did all of that go? Sure, he's still a good citizen for all we know, but that's to be expected as a professional, not rewarded.

How did it come to this… when Sunday, I watch our first two plays from scrimmage (handoffs to CJ for little to no gain) and I knew, right then and there, that our day was over. If we were planning on "establishing the run" against the Vikings and building our offensive gameplan around Chris Johnson, we were fish in a barrel. And that dread I felt after those first two plays proved to be legitimate; the game played out exactly like I feared - Johnson finished averaging less than 2 yards per carry and the Titans went home blown out 30-7.

And what's frustrating is that we just don't know how to run the ball on basic plays. I can watch two Division-II schools on ESPNU on a Wednesday night if I want to see a more competent and effective run game than the Titans are producing right now. It's just simply baffling as to how bad we are running the ball. And at some point, fans have to quit being apologetic of the man carrying the football.

Let me start by saying again that I appreciate and respect what Chris Johnson has done for us. Despite the fact that we went 8-8 in 2009 and missed the Playoffs, CJ gave us all some excitement and something to cheer and look forward to every Sunday, and we all wondered if we were going to see "the big one" when he got the football in his hands. Regardless of what he's done since, the fact that the Titans can say we had one of the few 2,000-yard rushers in history is a pretty cool note.

But that's in the past, and we have to look at what's best for our team moving forward. And the fact of the matter is that if our running back's name was Player A instead of Chris Johnson, he would not have a starting spot on our (or maybe ANY) team. Taking only this season into account as a sample size, he is one of the worst RBs in the league at this point in the season.

ESPN currently ranks 49 NFL running backs in the Yards Per Rush statistic, and CJ currently ranks 45th on that list, at 2.9. Players ranked above him include, among others, Danny Woodhead, Bilal Powell, Ben Tate, Daryl Richardson, Shaun Draughn, Jackie Battle, and Brandon Bolden. CJ also currently has zero touchdowns on the season. We are five games in! Over a quarter of the season!

I'm not going to get into the comparisons of CJ's salary to those other guys listed (it's way too obvious), but before you mock the Jaguars because they're the Jaguars, consider how they handled MJD's contract situation as compared to how we handled CJ's. Moving on...

Looking past the statistics, CJ doesn't even past the eye test, either. Seeing the explosiveness and effectiveness that Adrian Peterson Toby Gerhart showed Sunday made me realize that I don't remember the last time I saw Johnson do anything that resembles that. I haven't seen Johnson hit a hole that quickly, that assertively, and that confidently in years. When he does break off big gains, it's as if he is as surprised as we are. He dances around a few seconds and is stunned when there's green grass ahead of him. He then trots ahead for a few yards and scampers for about a 15-yard gain. And that's it. And that's on a GOOD run.

I'm not even asking CJ to be the star of the offense. The teams in the NFL who are winners have proven that that's not the key to success. I want him to be a contributor. I want him to enhance what our passing game can get accomplished. But five games in, it's apparent that he can't even do that. It's to the point that when we hand the ball off, I expect a 3-yard gain at most, and I'm not surprised if CJ is taken down in the backfield. Frustrated? Yes. But not surprised.

It's time for Player A, he of 2.9 YPC and zero-touchdown fame, to find a new home. It's unbelievable that I'm sitting here wishing that we had Toby Gerhart running the ball for us when we have a player on our team who's in the same elite club as Simpson, Faulk, and Sanders. It's really mind-boggling how that can be the case.

But if Johnson can't contribute to our offense, and if he can't enhance what we are trying to get accomplished, then why keep him here?

I appreciate all he's done for our team, but it's simply time to move in a different direction. It scares me to death that we might see a resurgence of CJ once he's a Jet or a Bronco or a Ram, but at this point, it's better for us control what we can control and find a back that can contribute to our program. Let's turn a new page. It's time to change our major from Running Back History into Offensive Engineering.

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