When the Oakland Raiders travel to Tennessee to open the 2010 season this weekend, much of the talk will undoubtedly surround Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson. Last season, Johnson became only the sixth player in NFL history to put up over 2,000 rushing yards and set a new record for all purpose yards with over 2,500. With stats like these, it is understandable why the media will focus on Johnson as the 2010 NFL season begins.
However, in spite of the fact that Chris Johnson will be the best player on the field Sunday, he will not be the player who makes the biggest difference in the game. Instead, it is the two quarterbacks who are trying to establish themselves as new team leaders who will decide the game.
With his ability to affect both the run and passing game, Chris Johnson is the type of player that is rarely shut out of a game. He is going to get 100-150 all purpose yards no matter what. The key is to shut down the rest of the team so that Johnson's inevitable success is meaningless in terms of the outcome of the game. In order to do this, the Raiders will need to contain quarterback Vince Young.
After being benched in favor of veteran quarterback Kerry Collins, Vince Young bounced back onto the scene last year. When he took over for the aging Kerry Collins, Young took a team who started 0-6 and made a legitimate playoff push with them. Hailed by many as the savior of the team, Vince Young now needs to prove that he can be a consistent starter that will lead the Titans back to the playoffs.
Vince Young has become a much better passer while continuing to be a serious threat on the ground as well. Young was the second leading rusher on the Titans last year and put up an impressive 5.1 yards per carry when he decided to take off. It was his play last year, keeping drives alive, that turned the Titans from a team who couldn't buy a win, into a playoff contender.
Chris Johnson and the Titans will need Vince Young to keep drives alive so that Johnson has the opportunities to break the game open. If the Raiders are able to shut Vince Young down, especially limiting his ability to scramble, Johnson will not be able to take the game over.
Besides limiting Vince Young's effectiveness, the Raiders can also keep Chris Johnson under wraps by simply keeping him off the field. The best defense for a player the caliber of Johnson is a good offense. The more successful the Oakland Raiders are on offense, the less time Johnson will have to make an impact.
The key to the Raiders success on offense will be Jason Campbell. The Tennessee Titans have a good run defense and will be able to keep Michael Bush (if healthy) and Darren McFadden at bay unless the pass game is able to soften up run lanes for them.
Keeping the Raiders offense on the field and Chris Johnson off the field will require that Jason Campbell take good care of the ball and make enough plays to ensure that drives do not stall without any points. In order to do so, Campbell will need to do a good job of looking down field, but also finding check down receivers when the deep routes are covered. Turning the incomplete passes and interceptions of years past into short gains will go a long way towards improving this offense and keeping drives alive.
Sunday's game is important as both teams who will be looking to put the failures of last season clearly in their past. In order to do so, both teams will look to young quarterbacks who are striving to prove that they are capable of being winners in the NFL. How these quarterbacks do in their first game will dictate which team will be able to start the season on the right foot.