How Revitalized Running Attack Can Lead Titans Past Steelers

Chris Trapasso@ChrisTrapassoAnalyst ISeptember 7, 2013

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 17:  Running back Chris Johnson #28 of the Tennessee Titans runs with the ball against the New York Jets at LP Field on December 17, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Tennessee Titans are hoping quarterback Jake Locker takes a big step forward this season, but they don't necessarily need to lean on him to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sunday. 

Mike Munchak's squad has been gearing up to win with a dominating running game in 2013 and beyond. 

Offensive guard Andy Levitre was given a huge contract in free agency. In April's draft, the monstrous mauler Chance Warmack was selected No. 10 overall. Three rounds later, the Titans picked California's versatile interior lineman Brian Schwenke. 

Undeniably, running back Chris Johnson is a premier talent at his position, therefore he's a logical offensive focal point to build around. 

His home run-hitting ability can act as an equalizer when the Titans are noticeably outplayed by their opponent. 

The start of Johnson's 2012 season was about as ghastly as it gets—45 yards on 33 yards in three games—but an assortment of splash plays led to a 1,243-yard campaign at 4.5 yards per rush. 

Here's how Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rated the Titans' run-blocking efforts last year: 

Titans' 2012 Run-Blocking
 Run-Blocking Grade (Rank)
Michael Roos+2.7 (26)
David Stewart+.9 (32)

Neither tackles were stalwarts paving the way for Johnson, and Levitre is certainly more of a finesse pass-blocking guard than anything else. 

Starting center Rob Turner was given a +.5 run-blocking grade with the St. Louis Rams a season ago. 

However, Warmack's presence at the right guard spot will be vital. He's NFL-ready and should be able to pulverize defensive linemen and linebackers at the second level on most running plays.

Although preseason statistics should always be taken with a grain of salt, Johnson's exhibition efforts were encouraging this year, as he carried the ball 20 times for 155 yards with a touchdown in three games. 

The Steelers allowed a pedestrian 3.7 yards per carry last year; however, Johnson did tote the rock 19 times for 91 yards in the 26-23 victory against Pittsburgh. 

In fact, take a look at how starting running backs fared against Mike Tomlin's club in the Steelers' eight losses last season:

Success of Winning Feature Backs vs. Steelers in 2012
 CarriesYardsYards Per Carry
Willis McGahee16644
Darren McFadden181136.3
Chris Johnson19914.7
Jonathan Dwyer12554.6
Trent Richardson25852.9
Ryan Mathews25652.6
DeMarco Murray14815.8
BenJarvus Green-Ellis1514.9


While Pittsburgh wasn't absolutely steamrolled by feature backs in its defeats in 2012, a handful of backs were able to piece together efficient performances.

Newcomers Jarvis Jones and Shamarko Thomas may aid Pittsburgh's run defense, but a collection of teams proved the Steelers could be exposed against the run. 

It won't be easy moving the football through the air, that's for sure. The Dick Lebeau-coached secondary led the NFL by allowing a mere 185 passing yards per game last season. 

Furthermore, they allowed 17 passing yards per drive, an average bested only by the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals in 2012.

Pittsburgh allowed one 300-yard passing game—to Tony Romo—and held its opponent under 200 passing yards on 10 separate occasions. 

Stingy City. 

Basically, Tennessee's game plan should come down to trust and reliability. At this point, it makes much more sense for the Titans to lean on their featured running back, an established player who's eclipsed the 1,000-yard plateau in each of his five professional seasons than it does to depend on a signal-caller with 11 career starts. 

Based on what we saw in some spots from the Pittsburgh defense last year coupled with the offseason additions Tennessee made along its offensive line, riding what should be a bolstered running attack gives the Titans the best chance to upset the Steelers to start the 2013 campaign. 



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