This is not the first time Will Witherspoon has seen this sort of thing.
That is precisely why the Tennessee Titans linebacker expects to see running back Chris Johnson produce at a more familiar level. And soon.
“Fans want numbers, but I’ve seen this before,” Witherspoon said. “I went through it once with Steven Jackson [in St. Louis]. You’re trying to get things together through camp … and it was about this same point in the year that he really started to pick it back up and get going again.
“So it changes.”
Jackson missed 27 days of Rams’ training camp in 2008 before he signed a five-year, $49.3 million deal. Then he struggled.
He averaged 53 yards per game through the first three weeks before an encouraging 24-carry, 110-yard effort against Buffalo. He finally broke loose for 160 yards in Week 7 and finished with 1,042 yards and a 4.1-yards-per-carry average, despite the fact that he missed four games with injury.
Jackson ended that season with back-to-back 100-yard efforts.
Six games into the Titans season, Johnson, whose holdout lasted seven days longer than Jackson’s, has 268 rushing yards on 93 attempts. There were an encouraging 101 yards on 23 carries in Week 4 at Cleveland but two forgettable outings since.
“Of course it [doesn’t] show within the stats or whatever,” Johnson said. “But I can tell my body and just being sore and things like that and me getting back in the groove — I can tell for myself that I’m getting better and better.
“Just like any year if I was in camp, I’d like to get better every game.”
Sunday’s 41-7 loss to Houston actually was his worst of the season in terms of yards (18), longest gain (three yards) and yards per carry (1.8).
Afterward, he said he felt the problems with the run game were the result of others’ failings not his. He offered no specifics, though, as to what he felt needed to be better.
“That was as frustrated as I’ve been throughout this whole year, throughout my whole career,” he said. “It’s just I know how good we [are] as a team and as a unit. For us to be out there not showing it on Sunday is just frustrating.
“… I’m not pointing the finger at anybody. It’s just not going well now.”
The Titans are last in the league in rushing offense at 64.3 yards per game as they prepare for Sunday’s game against Indianapolis (noon, LP Field).
The Colts are last in the AFC and second worst overall in run defense.
"We can’t dwell on the past, we can learn from it and look at it and, ‘Hey, we have 10 weeks to get CJ 1,000 yards' -- the next 10 weeks and have 10 good games," Tennessee coach Mike Munchak said. "That’s how we have to look at it, that’s what we are working towards."
What is not likely to change is the amount of respect opposing defenses pay to Johnson, regardless of what he has done, particularly given that big-play wide receiver Kenny Britt is out for the year. The Titans’ three worst games in terms of passing yards are the three since Britt was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury.
“You have to know that people around the league know what CJ can do,” Witherspoon said. “They’re still game planning against him. It’s not like they’re saying, ‘Oh he’s not ready yet, let’s just go out and do what we do.’”
Johnson, on the other hand, intends to do exactly that.
“Basically it’s just keep working, that’s it,” he said. “Just keep running how I’m running and keep believing in my line and my line will believe in me. Just continue trying to get better.
“I’m running the exact same as how I’ve been running. I feel like I haven’t been doing anything different and I won’t change the way I’m running because that’s what got me here and what got me where I’m at today.”
If Witherspoon is right, though, the numbers are about to change dramatically.