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New York Jets Must Temper Expectations for Chris Johnson After Preseason Debut

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New York Jets Must Temper Expectations for Chris Johnson After Preseason Debut
Associated Press
Chris Johnson still has rare speed, but do the Jets have the ability to take advantage of it?

New York Jets running back Chris Johnson is a far way removed from the days when he was earning the moniker CJ2K.

In the Jets backfield, it's going to be more like CJ?K.

No one can be completely certain of what to expect from Johnson in his first year with Gang Green. Most of it is out of his control; the running game may never get off the ground if quarterback Geno Smith isn't providing a passing game that poses a threat through the air.

Another aspect he can't control is the likelihood that the Jets offense will not feature him exclusively, as the Tennessee Titans did for years. Instead, they are more likely to feature all their backs in a stable where each gets to play in the most fitting scenarios.

At this point, Johnson's bread and butter is likely to be on plays to the outside (pitches and screens) and passing downs as a checkdown option out of the backfield. Some of that is a statement that speaks to Johnson's limitations as a runner, but he can still be effective when used properly.

The question is whether the Jets have the capacity to use him in those ways. They got mixed results when they used him in their first preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Johnson's first touch out of the gate was a 10-yard reception on a checkdown on 3rd-and-14. The Colts covered the Jets receivers downfield and swarmed to the ball immediately when Johnson caught it. To be fair, that was a difficult situation and Johnson shouldn't get too much criticism for failing to convert it—none of the receivers were open.

There should be some concern over whether the Jets are built properly to fully take advantage of Johnson's skill set. It seemed that every time they wanted to execute a perimeter play, they were unable to contain the defensive end or cornerback, who would then stop the play short.

Source: NFL Preseason Live

There were two prime examples of this. The first came on Johnson's first carry of the game, a two-yard run to the right, as seen above. Smith pitched the ball to Johnson, who was trying to follow his blockers to the outside and into the open field. Unfortunately, the offensive line whiffed on a pair of blocks.

The most important block they missed was of Colts defensive back Colt Anderson (No. 32), who got to the sideline before Johnson could, forcing the run back inside, where the rest of the defense was waiting for him. 

Tight end Jace Amaro was the one responsible for the defensive back, although right tackle Breno Giacomini could have also gotten out in front of the play a little faster to chip the linebacker aside before he clogged Johnson's lane.

Amaro has been noted for his struggles with blocking, with head coach Rex Ryan saying he wants to "give [Amaro] tapes of Mike Ditka" to help him realize that he is a big (6'5", 265 lbs), physical tight end who can use his frame to his advantage.

As for Giacomini, blocking in space is not considered a strength of his, with Bleacher Report's Matt Miller saying Giacomini "doesn’t have the athleticism to be a huge factor at the second level or in space in the running game." 

Source: NFL Preseason Live

As for trying to use him on screen passes, the Jets may need some blockers who perform better in space. Above, Smith's pass bounced off the running back's hands, with Johnson trying to run with the ball before he had finished reeling it in. 

The play may have been a bust whether or not he had caught it, though, because guard Brian Winters fell to the ground while trying to block Colts linebacker Jonathan Sharpe. Unless he had been able to catch the pass and quickly turn on the burners, Johnson would have most likely been clocked as soon as he caught the pass. 

It may have also helped if the Jets had more than one lead blocker on the play. 

Source: NFL Preseason Live

There were, of course, some positives on the night. As seen in the above GIF, Johnson had a nice cutback on his one-yard touchdown run. The run was designed to go off the right side, but with a wall of defenders that direction and an open space to his left, Johnson wisely and smoothly cut the other way and punched it in.

Notice the man-to-man blocking, with the linemen all squared up on their assignment, which is the man in front of them. 

This is not to say that the Jets do not have a talented offensive line. Players like center Nick Mangold and left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson are still cornerstones of the offensive line even in the late stages of their careers; however, the Jets are limited in what they can do successfully on the offensive front.

According to Football Outsiders' opponent- and situation-adjusted metrics, the Jets offensive line ranked 27th in the NFL in second-level yards (yards gained between five and 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage). They also ranked eighth in power running (rushing conversions on third or fourth down with two yards or fewer to go). 

Source: NFL Preseason Live

As you can see above, the Jets also weren't entirely unsuccessful in getting Johnson the ball in space, as he and backup quarterback Mike Vick hooked up for a six-yard gain on a swing pass.

The Colts did a good job diagnosing this play, and there were plenty of defenders in place to bring Johnson down before he got all the way to the outside, but the Jets had the right idea: try to get Johnson in space and give him an opportunity to make someone miss. 

This is why running backs like Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory haven't had a problem being productive in the Jets' system. Their style of running is more fitting to the Jets' system and personnel.

There are possibilities for Johnson to be successful in this system and with this team, but he will never reach his full potential unless his teammates give him the help he needs.

 

Unless otherwise noted, quotes obtained firsthand or via team news release.

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