Chris Johnson May Be The Real Deal, and Other NFL Week One Observations

Hardy EvansContributor ISeptember 19, 2010

Chris Johnson #28 breaks of a 76 yard touchdown run against the Raiders.
Chris Johnson #28 breaks of a 76 yard touchdown run against the Raiders.


The Best of the Best: Offense

Best Passing Performance: Peyton Manning

Manning completed 40 of 57 pass attempts for 433 yards, 3 TDs, and a 109.8 passer rating. Despite his strong performance, the Colts still lost 34-24 to the Texans.

Best Rushing Performance: Arian Foster

Arian Foster broke out and carried the ball 33 times for a franchise record 231 yards and 3 TDs as he helped the Texans upset the Colts 34-24.

Best Receiving Performance: Austin Collie

Collie recorded 11 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown in a loss to the Texans.

The Best of the Best: Defense

Best Defensive Lineman: Mario Williams

Mario Williams showed why the Texans drafted him over Reggie Bush as he recorded 4 tackles, a sack, and five quarterback hits against Peyton Manning and the Colts. Williams kept the heat on Manning all day.

Best Linebacker: Clay Matthews

Clay Matthews has kept his foot on the gas after an impressive rookie season, recording three sacks, 11 tackles and a forced fumble as the Packers beat the Eagles 27-20.

Best Defensive Back: DeAngelo Hall

DeAngelo Hall had 8 tackles, two pass deflections, and a forced fumble, which he recovered and ran 32 yards for a touchdown at the end of the first half.

Quick Takes: Five things I Think I Know

1. Chris Johnson may be the real deal.

I discuss this in depth later on...

2. The Jets are nowhere near a lock for the AFC East.

Sometimes, quarterback stats are deceiving. Just look at Eli Manning's three interceptions last Sunday, which all came off of tipped passes. However, Mark Sanchez's 74 passing yards, 3.5 yards per attempt and 56.4 QB rating tell the truth and nothing but the truth. Sanchez consistently overlooked wide open receivers and seemed afraid to throw anything deeper than a check-down. The Jets offense performed abysmally, and only Ladainian Tomlinson is credible for having a good performance. Shonn Greene struggled, and fumbled two of his six touches.

The Patriots, on the other hand, handled one of the best secondaries in the NFL, and Wes Welker looked pretty darn good. The Brady dynasty isn't over yet.

3. The Ravens will win the AFC North.

Baltimore's defense made the Jets offense look absolutely anemic on Monday night, with Ed Reed standing on the sidelines. 

Moreover, the Ravens now have the offense to match. The offseason was like one long Christmas for QB Joe Flacco, as the team added Anquan Boldin and TJ Houshmandzadeh. Add in the veteran Derrick Mason, Todd Heap over the middle, and Ray Rice as possibly the most dangerous check-down in the NFL, and you get one heck of a receiver corp.

If anyone beats out the Ravens for the AFC North, it will be the Steelers. They looked very good against the Falcons Sunday afternoon. However, this division is tight, and three more games without Big Ben may hurt them more than one would think.

4. If used right, Jamaal Charles will be the next big name in football.

I've been very high on Charles for a while. In 2009, the Chiefs seemed almost unwilling to hand him the ball until the last four games of the season. During this span, he ran for 658 yards with an average of seven yards per carry. He totaled 1,120 yards off only 190 carries (5.9 YPC), and had 7 touchdowns in 2009.

On Sunday, Charles had 92 yards with 8.4 YPC, and a touchdown. Kansas City has--in my opinion--one of the best and most underrated weapons in football. Charles makes more plays per carry than almost any other back in the NFL.

5. The Giants are a two-for: they are Super Bowl contenders and set up for disappointment at the same time.

This team is the NFL's wild card. In 2009, the only things separating an undefeated powerhouse and a team that gave up 85 points in the last two games of the season were time and several key injuries. 

The Giants defense is deadly when healthy. Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle could potentially form the best safety tandem in the NFL, add in Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas and you have one of the league's better secondaries. However, as good as Phillips looked on Sunday he is still a question mark. The defensive line is one the best and deepest in the NFL, but isn't that exactly what everybody said last year?

The offense is dangerous, but can be frustrating at times, especially in the run game. An oft-injured offensive line struggled to open holes for the electric Ahmad Bradshaw against the Panthers, though they picked it up near the end of the game. Eli Manning, though not quite there, is slowly approaching the ranks of the elite. The receivers are all young up-and-comers .

The Giants have too much potential talent to count out of the big game, with potential being the key word. If everybody stays healthy and plays up to expectations, the Giants could be the team to beat. 

Quick Takes Two: Five Things I Know I Think

1. Hype's a virus, teams like the Jets and the Cowboys are set up for failure.

The Jets and the Cowboys may have been the most hyped teams going into the season. The Cowboys are widely considered a top-5 or even top-3 team in the league, while the Jets are self-proclaimed Super Bowl favorites.

All this has accomplished is painting a target on the back of both teams, who are now each 0-1. They--especially the Jets--are the teams everyone wants to beat and the mouths everyone wants to shut. Sure, each team is supremely talented, but the NFL doesn't always go as talent dictates.

Due to Rex Ryan's written Super Bowl guarantee, anything less than a Lombardi will be an "underachievement" for the Jets. The Cowboys are projected to have one of the NFL's best offenses, but may sink a bit because of a struggling o-line.

2. The Cowboys should've gone o-line.

I understand that the Cowboys were missing the entire right side of their line on Sunday's tight loss to the Redskins. I also understand that penalties and a miscommunication at the end of the first half probably cost them the game. However, I still feel that Sunday, along with the entire preseason, showed that this offense may struggle more than it should. 

Simply put, the Cowboy's should've gone o-line. I don't necessarily disagree with the drafting of Dez Bryant, but other than that the offensive line should've been made more of a priority this past offseason. Tony Romo is a very good quarterback, and he has terrific receivers. All he needs is an elite o-line and this offense could be unstoppable.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I think Tony Romo + Miles Austin + Jason Witten + Dez Bryant should equal a lot more than just 7 points against the Redskins. 380 yards is certainly impressive, but the Cowboys didn't punctuate their drives well.

We'll see how a healthy line performs against Chicago on Sunday. By the way, my money's on the Cowboy's, the Bears can't block Demarcus Ware and his buddies.

3. Ladainian Tomlinson will outperform Shonn Greene.

The young Shonn Greene certainly made do with his limited carries last year, registering 540 yards on only 108 touches. However, he did not look sharp Monday night against the Ravens. Greene only had 5 attempts for 18 yards, and still managed to fumble twice, before he was benched in favor of Tomlinson.

Shonn Greene's backup and mentor rushed for 62 yards on a 5.6 YPC. More importantly, he didn't fumble.

"LT" may be slowing down, but I'll take his smarts and drive over Shonn Greene's talent any day. Greene may just need more time, but 2010 will probably belong to Ladainian Tomlinson as far as numbers are concerned.

4. Michael Vick may be the best option for the Eagles.

Kevin Kolb impressed in his two starts last year. He did not, however, impress Sunday afternoon against the Packers. In his short time on the field, Kolb was 5 for 10 for 24 yards and was sacked 3 times.

Vick performed much better, going 16 for 24 for 175 yards and a TD. He also rushed for 100 yards. Vick will get the start this week against Detroit, and another strong performance may move him up on the depth chart.

5. Hakeem Nicks is the best receiver of his class.

This is more of a gut feeling to be completely honest. Nicks had 75 yards and 3 TDs against the Panthers in a performance that wasn't as good as the numbers indicate. Nicks dropped three passes, one that was tipped and picked off.

Still, his ability to get open is uncanny. Even more impressive, however, is his ability after the catch. In 2009, Nicks was tenth in the league in YAC and first in average YAC. 

As good as Percy Harvin is, if any receiver beats out Nicks for best receiver of his class I think it will be Mike Wallace. I personally can't wait to see how Wallace performs as the number two receiver this year, especially once Roethlisberger is back.

Chris Johnson May be the Real Deal

"CJ" is the best running back in the NFL, period. I love Adrian Peterson, and I love his playing style, but CJ is just plain better. 

Honestly, I don't understand how Chris Johnson puts up such astronomical numbers. He is the Titan's game plan, week after week, but defenses just can't seem to adjust. Even during the final game of 2009, when the Seahawks knew that Tennessee's goal was to get Johnson over 2,000 yards, he still managed to have a big day.

Adrian Peterson at least has the advantage of having one of the deadliest passing attacks in the league. No defense can safely play the run against the Vikings, because Brett Favre and explosive receivers such as Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin will pick apart any 8-man front or run blitz. Chris Johnson doesn't have that luxury.

However, what I mean by "the real deal" isn't just that he is better than Peterson. I mean that by the time he retires he could potentially challenge the all-time greats.

Every running back in the NFL is talented, to a certain degree. They all have a decent level of speed, agility, power, etc. That's why they're in the NFL. The great runners we see today, CJ, Peterson, Steven Jackson and the likes, are simply more talented. They are have more agility, more speed, and more power than the rest of the "average" NFL backs.

Your always going to see a club of three or four elite runners in the NFL. There's been plenty of all-pro backs. However, what a runner needs to make the jump from elite to legendary isn't necessarily a boat load of talent. It's a little bit of talent, and a hell a lot of toughness and durability.

With that being said, Chris Johnson has as much talent as any back in recent memory. Too often guys with his kind of explosiveness take the handoff and are off like a shot. CJ, on the other hand, exhibits incredible patience in his first two steps, when he makes his reads and searches for his path to daylight.

Not only does he map out that path better than almost any other back in the league, he hits the hole with unparalleled explosiveness.

So he's checked box one in his road to being a legendary running back. Just look at the numbers:

Statistics from First Two Years in NFL
Runner Chris Johnson Jim Brown Barry Sanders Walter Payton Emmitt Smith OJ Simpson Gale Sayers
Yards 3234 2500 2774 2069 2500 1185 2098
Average 5.31 5.38 5.19 4.08 4.13 3.94 5.31
Touchdowns 23 26 27 20 13 7 22

As you can see, Chris Johnson's first two seasons in the league have been as prolific if not more so than almost any runner in history. Only Jim Brown had a higher average and more TDs. 

CJ has the talent, but it's durability that will make him a legend. Plenty of players have had good individual seasons, even two good seasons back to back. However, the average career length for an NFL starting running back is around three years, because of the brutality of the position. That's what CJ has to overcome. 

Jim Brown was arguably more consistent with his great play--Brown averaged 104.3 yards per game and 5.2 YPC over his career--than any other running back in league history, and that's why he is so highly regarded. Its the toughness combined with great talent that makes a hall-of-fame back.

I've given CJ some pretty high accolades thus far, some that I hesitated in giving him. I'll be intently watching him on his road to 2,500 yards (though that's a bit of a stretch) in hopes that he doesn't let me down.

For Curiosity's Sake...How Much Does Week One in the NFL Mean?

Half of the NFL is now undefeated. The other half, however, is 0-1. Week one usually leaves a lot of players, fans, and coaches either very excited or very nervous about their team.

The Bengals' secondary, one of the league's best on paper with Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph at corner, was sliced open by Tom Brady and the Patriots.

The perennial AFC South powerhouse, the Colts, was defeated convincingly by the Houston Texans.

And the Jets offense, loaded with weapons such as Ladainian Tomlinson, Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery, and Dustin Keller, had its wings clipped by Mark Sanchez's poor performance.

But how significant is week one? After all, new coaches are still tweaking their schemes, new players are adjusting to their surroundings, etc., so an 0-1 start can't be that bad, right?

Actually, only 7 teams have ever lost their season opener and still won the Super Bowl. One Super Bowl champion, the 1967 Packers, tied their opening game. The other 36 champions all won on opening weekend. Still, numbers are just numbers, and plenty of 0-1 teams (Colts, Cowboys, Chargers) are still contenders.

We will get a better picture of the NFL season after week two. Over the past 20 years, 63% of 2-0 teams have made the playoffs, and only 13% of 0-2 teams have made it.


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