In case you didn’t know, Chris Johnson is fast. Very, very fast. If he gets past you, good luck, and goodbye.
Of course, there’s no good in being really fast if you don’t know how to make the most of it, and Johnson is certainly making the most of his blazing speed.
After running for 1,228 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie last season in a virtual split role with Lendale White, Johnson has become the main option in Tennessee’s backfield this season. He’s certainly the last person you could point to for the Titans’ atrocious start to the season.
After running for 491 yards in Tennessee’s last three games, Johnson has taken over the NFL’s rushing lead with 959 yards through eight games, putting himself a full game’s worth of yards ahead of second-place Cedric Benson (an excellent story in his own right, certainly).
At the halfway point, Johnson is on pace for 1,914 yards, but with the roll he’s currently on it’s not too early to speculate on his chances to be the sixth back in NFL history—and the first since Jamal Lewis in 2003—to run for 2,000 yards.
How realistic are his chances? Here’s a look at how the remainder of the Titans’ schedule breaks down, and as you can see, there are more than a couple of favorable matchups for Johnson.
Week 10: vs. Buffalo — Johnson wasn’t listed as one of the must-starts in the Week 11 fantasy start & sit, but it’s safe to say that starting him against the league’s worst run defense is a must.
The Bills are allowing an average of 174 rushing yards per game, and gave up 222 rushing yards to New Orleans, 250 to Miami, 318 to the Jets, and even 171 to the Browns.
Don’t be surprised if Johnson runs for 200-plus yards for the second time in three games.
Week 11: at Houston — The Texans may have outlasted the Titans 34-31 in Week Two, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying by Johnson. He was a one-man show, carrying the ball 16 times for 197 yards and touchdowns of 57 and 91 yards, and he caught nine passes for 87 yards and had a 69-yard touchdown catch.
Week 12: vs. Arizona — Arizona’s defense is statistically one of the best in the league against the run, but in Week Eight, they allowed the Panthers to run for 270 yards, including 158 by DeAngelo Williams.
Week 13: at Indianapolis — Johnson’s lowest output of the season came against the Colts in Week Four, but he was only limited to nine carries because the game was out of hand so early.
Indy’s run defense is decent statistically, but as we‘ve seen, they‘re prone to allowing big games on the ground. Ronnie Brown ran for 136 yards against the Colts in Week Two and Steven Jackson went for 134 in Week Seven, so Johnson could get his share if the Titans can stay in the game long enough for him to get a decent amount of touches.
Week 14: vs. St. Louis — The Rams are 27th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game at 134.8, but only two running backs have been able to top the 100-yard mark against the Rams this season.
Julius Jones ran for 117 yards against St. Louis in Week One, but 62 of those yards came on one carry. Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 133 yards and three scores against St. Louis in Week Six, but it took him 33 carries to reach that total.
Week 15: vs. Miami — Miami is fifth in the league against the run, but that’s helped by having given up next to nothing in their first four games.
Since then, they haven‘t been nearly as stingy against the run, giving up an average of 128 yards over their last four games.
Week 16: vs. San Diego — This could be one of Johnson’s least productive games if the Chargers continue to play the run like they have in recent weeks.
Over San Diego’s first four games, opponents averaged 4.6 yards per carry and 151 rush yards per game. Over the last four games, those numbers have dropped to 3.6 and 109.
Week 17: at Seattle — The Seahawks haven’t had to face many elite rushers so far, but remember what happened in Week Two at San Francisco? Frank Gore had 207 yards and touchdowns of 79 and 80 yards.
So, can Johnson reach the hallowed 2,000-yard mark?
Here’s what the others averaged in each half of their 2,000 yard seasons, and what Johnson has done thus far:
O.J. Simpson (1973 - 14-game season): 1st half - 177 carries, 1,025 yards, 2nd half - 155 carries, 978 yards
Eric Dickerson (1984): 1st half - 178 carries, 925 yards, 2nd half - 201 carries, 1,180 yards
Barry Sanders (1997): 1st half - 163 carries, 893 yards, 2nd half - 172 carries, 1,160 yards
Terrell Davis (1998): 1st half - 202 carries, 1,150 yards, 2nd half - 190 carries, 850 yards
Lewis (2003): 1st half - 187 carries, 1,045 yards, 2nd half - 200 carries, 1,021 yards
Johnson (2009): 1st half - 144 carries, 959 yards
As you can see above, one big, big thing in Johnson’s favor is freshness.
Simpson had 20 or more carries 12 times in 14 games, and had games of 29, 34, and 39 carries. Dickerson had 20 or more carries 14 times, and 25 or more seven times. Davis had 20 or more carries 14 times, and five games of 28 or more carries.
Lewis had 20 or more carries 13 times, 25-plus carries eight times, and 30-plus carries three times. Sanders carried the lightest load, logging 20-plus carries only eight times and 25-plus only three times.
So far, Johnson is averaging only 18 carries a game, which puts him on pace for just 288 carries. He has 20-plus carries only three times, and two of those times have been in the last two games.
I expect him to average 20-plus carries per game in the second half, but with White in the backfield, a half-decent QB on the field, and with Johnson’s freshness in mind, it’s hard to see him having to tote the load 30-odd times in one game at any point.
But provided he does continue to stay fresh, he could be able to perform like Dickerson and tote a major load down the stretch.
And of course, there’s the matter of keeping his YPC high. Dickerson averaged nearly six yards per carry in the second half, Sanders averaged nearly seven, and Johnson goes into the second half with fewer carries than either and a number of favorable opponents ahead.
So, even if his YPC drops below the 6.7 it's currently at, it's hard to see it dropping too far, even with an increased load.
Overall, you have to like Johnson’s chances to, at the very least, make a real run at 2,000 yards.
Could his amount of touches hurt him in the end? Perhaps, but simply from looking at the last couple of weeks, his chances are all the more realistic the more competitive Tennessee is in each game. The more competitive they are, the more of a factor the run game will be.
More competitive ---> more chances for Johnson ---> more yards for Johnson = 2,000-plus? It's going to be fun to find out...unless you're one of the unlucky people trying to stop him.
This article was originally published on The Red Zone Report.
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