There is no running back in the last 20 years who is as prolific as RB Chris Johnson. The Tennessee Titans ensured that Johnson gets paid for his performance with a four-year deal worth $53.5 million. While this deal raises the bar for running backs in the NFL, the impact for the AFC South can not go unnoticed.
Johnson has accumulated 4,598 yards in his first three years in the league. Only two other players in NFL history, Earl Campbell and Eric Dickerson, have accomplished more in such a short amount of time.
The Houston Texans, who have already had the weakness of their run defense exposed, might need to rethink how they are going to game-plan for the Titans.
Johnson is a runner who knows how to find the gap and turn on the afterburners in order to scorch defenses. He can also come around the corner and slip past defenders who do not ensure that they wrap him up in the open field. For the Texans, this will be an issue.
Houston finished 13th in the league for rushing yards allowed last season with 1,751 yards against them. This preseason they have allowed 476 yards and four TDs. For a team that is looking to re-establish itself in the AFC South, something will have to be done to reconcile the run defense.
Coach Wade Phillips' new 3-4 defense brings OLB Mario Williams off the weak side on almost every down. OLB Connor Barwin, on the strong side, also rushes the passer quite often meaning that ILBs DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing have to defend the middle of the field by themselves.
The problem with this is that any runner who makes it through the first wave of defenders only has two guys to worry about. One of the two ILBs will most likely be covering the TE, meaning that, in all likelihood, a runner would have to beat only one LB in the secondary. With a runner like Chris Johnson coming at you, this cannot be allowed.
Phillips will have to alter his scheme and possibly bring a CB or S in to add pressure on the run game. Otherwise the Texans will have to bring only one OLB on the rush and allow the other LBs to drop back into coverage or fill the gaps in order to stop the run.
Johnson's return to the Titans is, most likely, not much of a surprise for the teams in AFC South who are used to game planning for him. I do not see any huge changes coming in the Texans defense in order to stop Johnson but, then again, we have not seen Johnson play all preseason so it may be too early to predict his effectiveness for this season.