Chris Johnson: Is Tennessee Titans RB Still an Automatic Fantasy Start?

John RozumCorrespondent ISeptember 13, 2012

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 06:  Chris Johnson #28 of the Tennessee Titans watches the game action during the NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals at LP Field on November 6, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Don't waste a fantasy football roster spot by starting Chris Johnson each week.

The Tennessee Titans running back may seem like an elite ball-carrier, but because he is the offense's only legit threat to a defense, it becomes easy for opponents to shut him down.

And to make the play-calling more convenient for a defensive coordinator, the Titans don't plan on a primary alternative. In other words: Johnson's contributions aren't expected to become limited.

Per Jon Glennon of The Tennessean:

Coach Mike Munchak said he wasn’t about to re-evaluate the Titans’ rushing attack based on one woeful game.

One problem, the coach said: Johnson was too often looking for the home run.

“Early he was, again, looking for a bigger run than was there instead of taking the 4 or 5 (yards) that are there. The cutback and the big one may come later if you get more touches,” Munchak said.

We also have to keep in mind that the Titans did face the New England Patriots. So, it was basically a foregone conclusion that Bill Belichick would make a scheme that would shut down Tennessee's best player. In turn, that forced Jake Locker to beat the Pats defense while keeping pace with Tom Brady.

Check and mate, New England.

Here, we look at how the Pats were able to limit Johnson to just four yards on 11 carries and what to expect from the San Diego Chargers in Week 2.

Note: All screenshots are courtesy of NFL Game Rewind.


Johnson vs. the Patriots

Against New England, Johnson's longest run was five yards—his other 10 runs combined netted him a loss of one yard. No matter how stellar a teams' passing attack may be, this lack of production on the ground will be costly to an offense.

On this two-yard run, the Titans come out in a spread formation, and the Patriots linebackers are spread out quite a bit. You could certainly make the argument that New England only has five guys in the box here.

As the play develops, Johnson seemingly has nowhere to go. However, what we also see is a little too much patience, which results in limited ball-carrier vision.

So, Johnson bounces outside, and the unblocked defender comes up to help make the play.

A little more patience in the backfield, though, and here's what Johnson could have done otherwise (going back to the freeze frame of Johnson getting the handoff).

The yellow line indicates his first option and the red line indicates the second. Upon getting the rock, Johnson must immediately make a decision. He could bounce, cut back to the right or slam it inside for a solid four yards.

To no avail, Johnson ends up getting happy feet, and by the time he makes a cut he hasn't set up his blockers and his field of vision is significantly restricted.

Now the defender is in position to make a play, because Johnson is basically sitting right behind his own blocker. Had a cut been made sooner then the defense wouldn't have gotten into his face so quickly.

Now yes, the lack of blocking didn't help. That said, with blocking coming at a minimum, Johnson should be looking well ahead of time for the cutback. Not doing so is only going to reduce big-play opportunities and prevent Tennessee from fielding a balanced attack.


What to Anticipate From the Bolts

Aggressive attacking and quick reading is what you can expect, because the Titans don't present a threatening passing game. In short, Johnson will be keyed in on once again. Against the San Diego Chargers on Monday night, Darren McFadden was held to just 32 yards on 15 carries.

Sure, he produced well in the passing game, but the Chargers took away everything deep. Against the run, however, San Diego was extremely impressive even when McFadden seemed to have a lane.

On this no-gainer, McFadden hits the hole with force, but the Chargers simply flow and shut it down.

The linebacker reads quickly, beats the block and adds to the gang tackle. We also see the safety coming down, and it ultimately forces the fullback to chip off the double-team too early.

McFadden simply has nowhere to go but downfield and just gets what he can. He saw an opening, as the play was initially blocked well, and he took it. Being overly patient here and failing to make a snap decision would have turned this into negative yards.

For Johnson to potentially have any kind of success against the Bolts, or anyone else in 2012 for that matter, he must react quicker. After all, a play only lasts a few seconds in pro football, and failing to be instinctive results in lack of production.

San Diego will stack the box and force Jake Locker to out-play Philip Rivers, as the Chargers proved solid in man coverage against the explosive receivers presented by the Raiders.

Therefore, until Johnson proves to make faster decisions and gets the Titans' ground game some decent numbers (at the very least), he's not an automatic fantasy football start in 2012.


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