Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans Must Find Way to Solidify Running Game

Daniel BarnesCorrespondent IIIOctober 13, 2013

SEATTLE, WA. - OCTBER 13: Outside linebacker K.J. Wright #50 of the Seattle Seahawks brings down running back Chris Johnson #28 of the Tennessee Titans during the second quarter of the game at CenturyLink Field on October 13, 2013 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

The Titans did a lot in the offseason to help the run game. They signed free agents Andy Levitre, Delanie Walker and Shonn Greene, and drafted Chance Warmack and Brian Schwenke, and yet after six games, all they have to show for it are 584 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

Chris Johnson has been particularly ineffective. Johnson has a total of 294 yards, more than half of those coming from two games. In the last three games, Johnson has 37 carries for only 71 yards. Even worse, Johnson has yet to have a rushing touchdown.

So why are the Titans struggling so much with the running game? The way I see it, there are three main reasons.

Reason No. 1 is hard to accept, but it's true: Chris Johnson is no longer an elite player.

Now that I've made that statement, let me explain. Johnson is still one of the fastest players around. However, he's not as fast as he used to be, and his other abilities have fallen off a bit too.

He's always been a speed back, but there was a time when Johnson could make tacklers miss by running through them more often than you'd think. He doesn't seem to be able to do that anymore.

He's also not as quick as he once was, making it harder to make defenders miss that way. His vision seems to have suffered a bit too.

Now I'm not saying Johnson is a bad player or that he should be cut or anything like that, but the Titans need to account for his new limitations. Sending a speed back up the middle when he's only been successful on the edge isn't going to get you many yards.

And that brings us to the second reason: play-calling.

Johnson has been pretty effective when he can get out in space. Against the Chiefs, Johnson had a 63-yard touchdown run after Fitzpatrick tossed a short pass to him. The Titans need to focus more on getting Johnson into space and less on forcing him to get short yards between the tackles.

Jackie Battle, the Titans' No. 2 running back for now, has been somewhat successful running up the middle. In fact, Battle has more rushing yards than Johnson over the last three games, despite having only 17 carries.

Against the Seahawks, the Titans didn't even play Battle outside of special teams, and that can't happen again. The Titans should make Battle a bigger part of the rushing attack as long as he's got a significantly higher number of yards per carry than Johnson.

There's also the fact that Battle and Johnson get their yards in entirely different ways. Having the two swap out occasionally might make it a little tougher for opposing defenses to stop them.

Lastly, there's reason No. 3: Rob Turner.

Andy Levitre has not been playing at the level his salary suggests, and Chance Warmack has been predictably struggling as well, but Turner has been the worst player on the offensive line so far.

Against Kansas City, Turner got dominated by Chiefs' nose tackle Dontari Poe, giving up a sack, a tackle for loss, and another hit on the quarterback from Poe. Poe also had seven total tackles that game, many right at the line of scrimmage because Turner simply couldn't contain him.

It's hard to run the ball when your center can't open a lane, and it'd be one thing if Turner had played poorly only against Poe, but he's been having trouble with interior defensive linemen all season.

Schwenke might be a rookie, but it might be time for the Titans to consider starting him over Turner. If nothing else, it'll give them a chance to see what they have in Schwenke going forward.

Obviously, football is a complex thing. It's often hard to differentiate between a bad offensive performance and a great defensive performance. That may be true for the Titans' rushing attack as well.

There could be things that outside observers or even the coaching staffs themselves don't see that are making the Titans' run game less than ideal, but to an outside observer, it certainly looks like a lot of those problems are fixable if the coaching staff would take the necessary steps to fix them.