Chris Johnson is used to running with a target on his back. Even still, the Tennessee Titans’ star runner — who has rushed for over 1,000 in each of his first five seasons — often finds a way to get his rushing yards.
But on Sunday, despite facing a Chiefs defense that had allowed the ninth-most rushing yards per game in the league, the sixth-year pro finished with only 17 yards on ten carries, his lowest rushing output in over a year.
“I don’t think it was them — I think it was us,” Johnson said. “A lot of mistakes were made.”
As you might imagine, the Chiefs would beg to differ.
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“Just up front, we had to establish a new line of scrimmage and I think we did a pretty good job of that today,” said defensive end Tyson Jackson. “We were just attacking those guys, knocking them back in the backfield and making Chris Johnson stop his feet, try to make him redirect.”
The Chiefs even showed their might during a crucial series in the second quarter, when they stonewalled the Titans on four consecutive plays at their own 1-yard line. That includes a pair of up-the-middle runs by former Chief Jackie Battle that were snuffed out short of the goalline, the latter of which was led by defensive tackle Dontari Poe, who registered seven tackles and bordered on unblockable for most of the game.
On one hand, Titans coach Mike Munchak was surprised by Johnson’s overall lack of success on the ground, though the Titans did manage to rush for 105 yards as a team, nearly 15 below their season average.
But on the other, he knew the Chiefs’ defense was better against the run than the statistics gave them credit for.
“We knew that people said, ‘Well, they gave up X amount of yards per carry,’” said Tennessee coach Mike Munchak. “A lot of that was draws at the end of games where it didn’t matter, so the stats weren’t really what was on tape.”
Don’t forget, either, that the Chiefs gave up a season-high 264 rushing yards against a Philadelphia that runs a zone-read scheme that is difficult to prepare for. By the way, the only had three days to prepare for that game. Take that one out of the equation, and the Chiefs are allowing 77.8 rushing yards per game, which would put them in the league’s upper echelon.
“Playing against Philly, everybody will get hurt against the run because of the style of offense they play,” Jackson said. “Because of how they attack the defense, it’s just hard to get real good defensive stats like your normal games. But we’ve been doing a pretty good job (outside of that), we’ve got to keep it up.”
Johnson did get one chance to showcase his world-class speed on Sunday, however. In the third quarter, he helped the Titans get back into the game when he caught a short dump off from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and breezed through the open field for a 49-yard touchdown.
Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson accepted responsibility for the big play.
“Chris Johnson was just trying to block me, he wasn’t going out for a route,” Johnson said. “I just stayed on him a little bit, Fitzpatrick started running around and I just kind of left him and they made a good play. In that situation, I know next time, just stay with your guy until he crosses that line.”
It was the one time all day where Johnson got free, and it wasn’t even a running play.
Even still, the Chiefs didn’t totally bottle up the Titans’ run game. Battle broke off a 37-yard run and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick often used his legs to escape trouble, rushing for a team-high 50 yards on six carries.
That includes a 9-yard touchdown run which he shook off linebacker Justin Houston to give the Titans a 17-13 fourth-quarter lead.
“Fitzpatrick, he’s been known to be able to escape and use his feet throughout his whole career,” said safety Kendrick Lewis. “He got out a couple times but we were able to withstand it, as long as it wasn’t Chris Johnson taking it the distance on us.”