Titans Show They Won't Back Down in 2009

John JacobContributor ISeptember 11, 2009

PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 10:  Chris Johnson #28 of the Tennessee Titans runs the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game at Heinz Field on September 10, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

In a game where both teams typically are known for their ability to run the ball, Thursday's game between Tennessee and Pittsburgh ended up being decided in the air.

The Titans stifled the Steelers' rushing attack, allowing just 36 yards on 23 attempts. Yet, Tennessee did not fare much better, picking up 86 yards on 25 carries.

Chris Johnson and LenDale White, also known as "Slash and Dash," were unable to get any rhythm going offensively against the Steelers defense.

Johnson finished with 57 yards on 15 carries, 32 yards of which came on an early play when he reversed field and turned the corner before being knocked out of bounds by Troy Polamalu. Take away that run and Johnson averaged just 1.7 yards per carry, slightly better than the Steelers' team average of 1.6 per carry.

White, who looked faster after losing 40 pounds this offseason, took the ball just eight times but picked up 28 yards, an average of 3.5 yards per carry. 

So what does all this mean for the Tennessee offense?

In the short term, it means a 13-10 overtime loss. As far as the rest of the season is concerned, however, it means the Titans rushing attack is good, but still not good enough to overcome the vaunted Steelers run defense.

Jeff Fisher and the Titans certainly should not be discouraged by the results they saw Thursday out of the backfield. And there are two reasons in particular that they should like what they saw.

First, Johnson looked as quick and confident as ever, especially on a 32-yard scamper that started left and finished on the right side of the field. Sure, his running style may not have worked the rest of the game against the Steelers D, but he showed flashes of what could be an excellent second season.

As long as Johnson can run as well as he did in his rookie campaign, the Titans' offense should be much improved from 2008.

Second, White looked faster. That's not to say he's going to outrun Johnson in the 40-yard dash, but he certainly looked a few steps quicker after losing the weight.

If White can be faster and quicker through the hole this season while still maintaining his strong running style, he will improve the Titans' already impressive running game. And though he took just eight carries to Johnson's 15, if he keeps it up he should see his percentage of the workload increase.

So, it looks like the Titans still have an excellent one-two punch while improving in the pass game with the addition of Nate Washington and rookie Kenny Britt. If that's the case, and it certainly appeared that way Thursday night against the class of the AFC, Tennessee should have little trouble putting together a second consecutive 10-win season.

Fortunately for the Titans, they get a couple extra days to prepare for a home game against the Texans next Sunday at LP Field. 

In its first matchup with Houston last season, Tennessee rushed for 158 yards with Johnson's 74 yards on 16 carries leading the way for the Titans. White also rushed for 49 yards on 16 carries while reaching the end zone twice in the game.

With the way the Titans looked Thursday night, it would be safe to bet on a similar performance to last season's first game against the Texans. Johnson and White should get a more evenly split percentage of the carries with White taking the ball more often in short yardage situations.

What Tennessee needs to improve, however, is its blocking up front. Certainly much of the blame should go to the Steelers' strong defensive line, but the Titans' offensive line struggled to create holes for either back.

Houston's D line should not pose nearly as much a threat in Week Two, so the Tennessee rushing attack should be back in full force. 

The Texans finished 23rd in the NFL in rush defense last season, despite relatively strong performances against the Titans.

And if Houston's four preseason games are any indication—the Texans allowed more than four yards per carry in each game and more than six per game versus the Saints and Vikings—their run defense may even be worse in 2009.

So, with what appears to be a much-improved passing attack in 2009—especially downfield with Washington and Britt — the Titans should use a balanced attack to take care of the Texans in Nashville next week.

Of course, a heavy dose of Slash and Dash would not be bad either.