How Long Can Tennessee Titans Ride the Chris Johnson Train?
Johnson, who has rushed for 286 yards and two touchdowns over the last two games after a horrid start, faces run defenses ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in six of the Titans' final nine games.
Tennessee starts that stretch this Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, who are the No. 26 run defense this season (141.7 rushing yards per game). After two difficult matchups with the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins, the Titans return after the bye to play five of the final six games against lower quality run defenses.
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Included in those are the Jacksonville Jaguars twice (No. 29 run defense, 147.3 rushing yards per game allowed), Indianapolis again, New York Jets (No. 30, 147.7 rushing yards per game allowed) and Green Bay Packers (No. 17, 109.9 rushing yards per game allowed).
Johnson struggled early in 2012 against some of the top run defenses in football.
Over a three-game span to start the season, Johnson ran for a combined 45 yards on 33 carries against the New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers and Detroit Lions. Each of those teams is currently ranked in the upper half of run defense this season, including both the Patriots (No. 8) and Chargers (No. 2) in the top 10.
The rebound began when Johnson ripped apart the Houston Texans' No. 4-ranked run defense in Week 4 for 141 yards.
However, Johnson needs to continue to stack successes before facing another difficult stretch in Weeks 9 and 10. That opportunity is available this Sunday against a Colts defense that has allowed yardage totals from opposing running backs of 122 (Chicago in Week 1), 178 (Jacksonville in Week 3) and 246 (New York Jets in Week 6).
Over seven career games against the Colts, Johnson has averaged just 66.1 yards a contest. However, another piece of Johnson history is on his side.
How many rushing yards will Chris Johnson finish with in 2012?
Following a week in which he rushed for over 180 yards, Johnson averages 128.3 rushing yards the next game. If you drop that total to over 150 yards, Johnson still averages over 100 the following week. Put simply, Johnson has historically followed up big rushing performances with strong stat lines the next week.
A telling point for Johnson's season could come during a two-game stretch with the Bears and Dolphins. Both teams are ranked in the top three of run defenses this season, which could spell another disappointing day at the office for Johnson.
If Johnson and the Titans can survive that stretch, the rest of the schedule possesses the kind of matchups that could see Johnson run wild to finish 2012.
Expect the Titans, especially with a quarterback switch back to Jake Locker coming soon, to continue riding the Johnson train to finish this season. He's starting to catch fire, and the schedule should only build that fire over the final nine games.
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