We are three games into a young 2012 season filled with controversy. The officiating has been questionable to say the least, the Tennessee Titans have turned the page on Matt Hasselbeck in favor of Jake Locker, and Chris Johnson has hit an all new low.
Due for a bounce back or continue to bust? Mandatory credit: Don McPeak-US PRESSWIRE
After a full offseason of reassurance by Titans insiders that Chris Johnson was in for a bounce back season due to a renewed focus and work ethic, we have watched for three games awaiting signs of life. There are the knee-jerk reaction fans that want to cut him from the team, and there are those that are willing to just stay the course.
It seems the vast majority are still scratching their heads trying to decide what to think. The Titans have put all their chips on Johnson and so far have come up with empty hands.
Statistics are more than just fodder for fantasy football junkies. Statistics are the objective data that can help you see trends so that you might be able to pinpoint problems. What follows are the rushing statistics for Chris Johnson thru 3 games each season since 2008.
Interpreting the Data
1. Attempts – Johnson has seen the least amount of touches in his career through three games this season. You can attribute that to poor running, playing from behind, or a myriad of other excuses. However, the more telling stat is that he dropped by nearly 30 touches from 2010 (75) to 2011 (46). This seems to show a major change in offensive philosophy for the Titans.
2. Yards/Average – One would expect Johnson’s totals to be down because of his carries reduction in carries, but the standard to measure a running back is how many yards they average per carry. Johnson posted huge totals in 2008-2009 due, in part, to breaking some long runs. In 2010 he posted a very respectable 4.0 yards per carry despite the high volume of 75 carries. In 2011 it was cut almost in half to 2.1, and now we are staring at another sizable drop to a 1.4 average yards per carry.
To put that into perspective, New York Jets plodder Shonn Greene is averaging exactly double at 2.8, rookie Doug Martin of the Bucs is at 3.4, and Donald Brown running behind the pitiful Colts line has a 3.8 average.
3. Long / TDs – It’s dangerous to watch trends on longest rush and amount of TDs because they are very unpredictable and sometimes dictated by game situations. The one thing that is somewhat telling is that from 2008-2010, Johnson was able to break off at least one lengthy run of 50+ yards in his first three games. In 2011-2012 through three games, the best he could muster was a 13-yarder.
This holdout hasn’t missed a beat. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE
1. “When he held out last year, he came back out of shape.” This was a fair excuse last year for a couple of weeks, but every Titans fan had to be sweating when he still wasn’t doing much in week 3.
This year he has had a full offseason and preseason to get his game legs, and he has actually managed to underperform last year’s numbers. In 2012, we have a fellow AFC South holdout that blows this excuse out of the water. Maurice Jones-Drew held out during the entire offseason and preseason of 2012. He came into game action in week 1 and has managed to post 7 times the yardage (314 yards) of Chris Johnson as well as almost four times the average (5.3 YPC). Apparently a holdout can come in a be successful.
No amount of game tape seems to decrease this back’s worth. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey G. Pittenger-US PRESSWIRE
2. “Teams have tape on him and have figured him out.” This may be true to an extent. However, if we look at another running back that has been in the league and has started for roughly the same amount of years as Johnson, we can look to Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens. He has been the focal point of that Ravens offense for several years now just like Johnson has been for the Titans. T
here is plenty of tape to watch Ray Rice juking and jitterbugging his way through tight holes while also functioning as Joe Flacco’s safety valve in the passing game. Have opposing defenses figured him out? He currently has 268 yards with a 5.8 yards per carry average. Tape or not – an elite running back can get the yardage.
3. “He has faced too many good run defenses.” The following chart will show that the defenses CJ has been running against in 2012 are not invincible. Each team has given up at least one solid performance to an opposing RB in 2012.
11 attempts, 4 yards, 0 TD
Ray Rice (Week 3)
20 attempts, 101 yards, TD
8 attempts, 17 yards, 0 TD
Michael Turner (Week 3)
14 attempts, 80 yards, TD
14 attempts, 24 yards, 0 TD
Frank Gore (Week 2)
17 attempts, 89 yards, TD
So what’s the real reason?
Statistics do not tell us why the struggles are there or how long they will continue. What we know is that Chris Johnson lost his impact at the beginning of 2011. It could have had something to do with his lengthy holdout. Or possibly when he came back from his holdout, there was a new coaching staff in town that managed things a different way.
What I fear most of all is that Chris Johnson may have hit that unfortunate point in his career that is inevitable for every running back. Running backs play with intensity, but they just can’t stay around very long. Some backs seem to stick a little longer (Maurice Jones-Drew and Ladanian Tomlinson come to mind) while others seem to run out of gas a little early (‘Fast’ Willie Parker and Steve Slaton ring a bell).
Only time will tell, but it looks like Chris Johnson is trending in the wrong direction in a league that isn’t kind to running backs. We are praying for a turnaround Chris – make us a believe…