Week 5 with 14:52 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Week 7 with 7:07 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Guess how many offensive touchdowns were scored during that time frame? Zero. The only touchdown came when Jason McCourty had a 77-yard fumble return against the Seattle Seahawks. That happened during a botched field-goal hold attempt. The offense managed two field goals vs Seattle and one vs the San Francisco 49ers.
Earlier this month, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains turned 33 years old. He’s younger than many NFL players. Think about it: As a 31- and 32-year-old, he was a quarterback coach to Matt Hasselbeck, a 36- and 37-year-old veteran who nearly won a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks.
Doesn’t make much sense, does it? Yet, head coach Mike Munchak thought Loggains did well enough to earn a promotion to offensive coordinator. That came after the termination of Chris Palmer. The 33-year-old had an opportunity that many assistants can only dream once they reach their 40s, even 50s.
Loggains was sold as this wunderkind—a prodigy of young coaching minds. His background includes experience with offensive minds like Mike Heimerdinger and Sean Payton. Heimerdinger was the offensive coordinator who got the most out of Chris Johnson. He understood how to use Johnson, getting him into the open field so he could use his speed and explosiveness. Johnson’s three best seasons all came under Heimerdinger.
Loggains is often viewed as a Heimerdinger disciple. Despite his youth, Loggains’ resume suggested that he had enough knowledge to know how to use his prized running back. Maybe Loggains could recreate Smash & Dash, the running back duo that carried this team to a No. 1 seed in the 2008-09 AFC playoffs (LenDale White, CJ2K)? It hasn’t happened yet. Shonn Greene has missed five of seven games.
Even if Loggains was seen as more of a Payton disciple, Payton knew how to make Darren Sproles into one of the NFL’s best game-changing backs. Don’t forget about Reggie Bush. Payton and Heimerdinger have both flourished with speedy running backs.
Johnson hasn’t broken out. Through his last four games, Johnson has 46 carries for 110 yards. He has made up for some of that with 13 receptions for 165 yards. This includes a screen pass and broken down pass play that went for 66 and 49 yards, respectively. Both were touchdowns.
What was the difference between those passing plays and all of his rushing attempts? The Titans found ways to get him into the open field. They put him in situations where his speed and elusiveness weren’t neutralized from running him into crowded defensive fronts. Every time they get him into open space with blockers ahead of him, he proves that he’s still one of the NFL’s most dangerous open-field runners, maybe the most dangerous.
We can debate whether Johnson has the same speed, elusiveness or interest that he had before the 2011 NFL lockout. Regardless, these last three games have proven that whatever he has left is enough to make those big game-changing plays.
Week 8 is the Titans’ bye week. Loggains should spend that time looking over Heimerdinger film. What was Heimerdinger doing with Johnson that Loggains isn’t? Was Heimerdinger using him more toward the edge on counters, sweeps and tosses? Are there certain offensive linemen who aren’t picking up their assignments? Is Loggains too quick to surrender on the ground game? Maybe a combination of some or all of these things? Is it just a matter of execution?
Whatever the case, Loggains must figure it out. With a 3-4 record and a schedule that includes road games against the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos, there’s no margin for error. Not only is this defense good enough to carry this team into a playoff appearance but they’re good enough to win playoff games. Usually, playoff football comes down to teams who have the streakiest defenses and clutch quarterback play.
That’s not happening if the offense remains this dysfunctional. Unless this ground game takes off, then they won’t be anything but inconsistent-at-best.
What do our readers think? What will lead to a swift turnaround for Loggains’ offense? How can they get Johnson and/or Greene to become major contributors in the ground game? Discuss in the comments, Twitter or Facebook.
ESPN: Box Score
TitansOnline: Dowell Loggains