Tennessee Titans' Chris Johnson Could Set Record and Salvage Season

Bryan Hollister@too_old_4stupidAnalyst INovember 17, 2009

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 15: Chris Johnson #28 of the Tennessee Titans breaks free from Jairus Byrd #31 of the Buffalo Bills for a touchdown in their NFL game at LP Field on November 15, 2009 in Nashville, Tennessee.    (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
John Sommers II/Getty Images

With Tennessee Titans running back Chris "I'll see you in the end zone" Johnson rapidly piling up yards this season, there has been much speculation as to whether or not he will eclipse the 2,000 yard mark. Through nine weeks Johnson is averaging just over 121 yards per game.

With seven games remaining on the schedule, this average will put him at 1,939 yards, just shy of the goal.

But when you consider his last four games, three of which are wins, the numbers look a little different: 155 yards/game, including 128 yards in an otherwise horrendous game against New England.

That's quite a pace, but somewhat unrealistic. His current production, however, suggests that he might come in somewhere between the two extremes, meaning that if he averages 138-140 yards/game for the remainder of the season, he has a legitimate shot at eclipsing the mark set by Eric Dickerson 25 years ago.

However, there is nothing that says he will maintain this pace: as the season wears on, running backs wear down from the abuse of going full blast into defenders in search of downfield yardage.

Not to mention the fact that teams, particularly those with playoff aspirations, tend to turn up the wick as the regular season closes.

But Johnson is a little different. First of all, he has unreal speed. Once he gets free, he has a gear that no one has been able to match, easily outrunning defenders while making it look like he isn't even trying.

Secondly, he isn't known for grinding out short yardage between the tackles; LenDale White is responsible for carrying the majority of that load. When Johnson does run up the middle, he either slips through whatever hole he sees and gets gone, or bounces it back outside when there aren't any running lanes.

Forcing the issue inside is not his bailiwick, he knows it, and he plays the game that way.

Still, 2,000 yards in a season is not an everyday, or every season, accomplishment. In fact, only five running backs have managed the feat in their career; the pre-felony O.J. Simpson set the mark first with 2,003 in 1973; Eric Dickerson, the current record holder, put up 2,105 in 1984; Barry Sanders and Terrell Davis made back-to-back forays into the realm in 1997 and 1998, rushing for 2,053 and 2,008 yards respectively; and Jamal Lewis made the most recent showing in 2003, putting up 2,066 yards, coming the closest to knocking Dickerson off his perch.

The Titans seem to be on a roll of late; whatever spark it was Vince Young provided to Tennessee has seen them win three straight, and Johnson has been an integral part of each of those wins. With each passing week he seems to grow stronger, and if possible, faster. 

And considering that a 10-6 record might have a shot at the playoffs, the Titans may be one of those teams playing for all they are worth in the last few weeks of the season. If this comes to pass, Johnson will be critical to the effort.

Still, the fact that only five men have ever broken the mark indicates that Johnson has his work cut out for him. Considering that this goal may become a driving force for the Titans as the season wanes, defensive coordinators are sure to game-plan against allowing Johnson the requisite yardage to join the rather elite group.

The Titans are capable of reeling off 10 straight wins: They did so last year en route to a 13-3 record. Of course, they started their run at the beginning of the season last year, but 10 straight is 10 straight no matter where it occurs in the season.

The catch-22 is this: Tennessee will need Chris Johnson to maintain his current production in order to have a chance at 10-6. And Tennessee realistically needs to run the table to give Johnson a chance at the record.

This won't be easy: Tennessee's next seven opponents have allowed an average of only 112 rushing yards per game through week 10, well below the mark Johnson needs to pass Dickerson.

However, their next game is against Houston—in Houston , mind you, which will be a homecoming of sorts for Vince Young.

If Young plays well in front of at least a marginally friendly crowd, Johnson surely will have as good, or better, a game as he did against Houston in week two, rushing for 197 yards in a losing effort.

In fact, only one team of Tennessee's remaining opponents have a defensive rushing average under 100 yards. If he stays fresh, Johnson is likely to eat those defenses alive.

If he does, and that's a mighty big IF , we will be crowning a new single-season rushing king at the end of the season.

And who knows? it might just be enough to salvage what many have already deemed a lost season for the Titans. On top of becoming the new rushing leader, Johnson just might wrest an MVP award out of the deal.

They'll need considerable help, to be sure; they are currently seeded 12th of 16 teams in the AFC.

But stranger things have happened. And who doesn't like a storybook ending?