Chris Johnson: Here's How He Can Become CJ2K Again
If you're in need of a quick reminder, let's take a quick look at some of the disgusting stat lines he has put up since the start of 2011.
'11 Wk 1: 9 att/24 yds/2.7 avg
3: 13 att/21 yds/1.6 avg
7: 10 att/18 yds/1.8 avg
8: 14 att/34 yds/2.4 avg
11: 12 att/13 yds/1.1 avg
14: 11 att/23 yds/2.1 avg
'12 Wk 1: 11 att/4 yds/0.4 avg
2: 8 att/17 yds/2.1 avg
3: 14 att/24 yds/1.7 avg
For those who are counting, this output represents nine of the 20 games Chris Johnson has suited up for since the beginning of last season. It's hard to find any solace in the consistency of this crappiness.
While most bloggers and armchair analysts are quick to use the always entertaining "he looks tentative" argument, Johnson's struggles may also be the result of some other, lesser known issues.
When analyzing the ever-useful situational statistics over at NFL.com, we can form a few interesting theories about how CJ2LAME can become CJ2K again.
1) Get off to a strong start in his first 10 or so carries.
The phrase "getting off to a strong start" is used by thousands of football coaches out there, from Pop Warner to the pros, but never has it rang so true as it does with Chris Johnson.
In his record-breaking 2009 season in which he broke the 2,000-yard barrier and brought fantasy gold to most of his owners, Johnson averaged 6.1 yards a tote in his first 10 carries of each game.
In his rookie season one year earlier, CJ had a 5.2 YPC, despite the fact that he had to breathe the same air as LenDale White.
Interestingly, Johnson's ability to hit the ground running underwent a dramatic decline after 2009. In the 36 games he has started since the beginning of 2010, Johnson's YPC during carries 1-10 has been a paltry 3.6. Even worse, this average is trending downwards, at 3.7 in 2010, 3.6 in 2011, and 2.9 this year.
It's tempting to wonder if this is a conditioning problem, though that argument would only work for the 2011 season, when Johnson missed all of training camp and the majority of the preseason due to a holdout.
More likely, it's easier to explain this phenomenon as a result of an increased amount of defensive attention following his standout 2009 campaign.
Yes, it's no secret that Adrian Peterson has historically seen the highest number of seven- and eight-man fronts in football, but Chris Johnson is no doubt up there with AD; a 2,000-yard season and a self-anointed nickname will do that.
After all, who should defenses choose to beat them, a man who ran a 4.24 forty or the duo of Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck?
2) More garbage time production.
As tempting as it may be to blame Chris Johnson's struggles entirely on increased defensive attention, that would be taking the easy way out. Another intriguing situational statistic is the workload CJ has received when the Titans are losing.
As most football fans will tell you, a running back for a shoddy team isn't a great fantasy option, because he will be SOL when his team turns to the air to attempt a comeback...unless you're hunting for a rushing record, though, which is actually a particularly good time to be on such a team.
Granted, the 2009 Titans were in the playoff hunt for a decent chunk of the season, though they ultimately finished on the outside looking in, at 8-8. Of the 2,006 yards Johnson gained in the 2009 NFL season, 41.5 percent were amassed when his team was trailing. In terms of carries, CJ received 158 carries in these game situations.
Compared to 2010 (29.8 percent, 111 carries) and 2011 (36.2 percent, 87 carries), it's easy to see why a good nickname for the running back may be CJNeedsGarbageTime.
In 2012, this couldn't be more true. Of Johnson's 186 yards on the season, all but seventeen of them have come from when the Titans are behind. Admittedly, the majority of this yardage came from the team's Week 4 loss to the Texans, but it's an important point to make.
Going forward, it looks like Chris Johnson can at least recapture some of his old magic if his team gives him a heavy workload in garbage-time situations. Fantasy owners shouldn't care at what point in a game this production comes from; a yard's a yard right?
3) Obviously, better offensive line play is crucial.
We can't discuss Chris Johnson's rushing deficiencies without talking about his offensive line, though most fans are probably sick of hearing about it ,so we'll be quick.
CJ has been notorious for blaming his struggles on poor run blocking this season, and yards before contact numbers show he is on the money. In the first three weeks of 2012, Johnson had a YBC hovering around 1.0. Between 2009 and 2011, the back's O-line was much better, averaging a YBC of 3.0.
On average, Johnson has been good for 1.0-1.5 yards after contact in his career, so it's not just hot air when we hear him say things like: "I'm going to be as good as my offensive line."
Consequently, the real reason behind Chris Johnson's struggles appears not to be singular in nature; rather, it is a combination of different factors.
On any given Sunday, important things for fantasy owners to check will be: (1) how CJ is running out of the gate in his first 10 carries, and (2) if he is getting the rock when the Titans are behind.
If both of these factors are taken care of, and if the Titans O-line continues to block how it did against the Texans, fantasy owners can expect improved results.
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