Subscribe to any theory you’d like. There are plenty out there.
Perhaps you think Chris Johnson has not overcome the effects of his training camp holdout or that he simply was overused the past two seasons and, therefore, has little left in the tank. It could be that the offensive line never has been the same since center Kevin Mawae retired a year and half ago. Then again, there’s the possibility that opposing defenses are willing to do anything and everything to make sure Johnson is not the one who beats them.
The simple truth is this: The Tennessee Titans are not a very good running offense.
Sunday’s 17-14 victory over the Denver Broncos was the latest example of what seemed so unthinkable two seasons ago when CJ became the sixth back in NFL history to rush for more than 2,000 yards and the only one ever with three touchdown runs of 85 yards or more in a career.
Watching CJ run right now is like lighting a firecracker, tossing it a few feet away, covering your ears and then watching it fizzle harmlessly. You expect something that jangles your senses only to be left with numbing disappointment.
It was interesting to note that as the Titans waited to begin their opening possession of the fourth quarter in a game that was very much in doubt, the last song to play from the LP Field loudspeakers was Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run.
Then they threw the ball on 10 of the next 13 snaps, and all the difference-making plays were receptions.
This is, undeniably, a franchise born to run.
It arrived in Middle Tennessee on the broad shoulders of Eddie George. It served as the last hurrah for Travis Henry and the launching pad for Johnson. Go back to its Houston days and understand that it was launched on the fleet feet of Billy Cannon and prospered on the punishing manner of Earl Campbell.
Four Heisman Trophy winners have played for the Oilers/Titans and all were running backs — Cannon, Campbell, George and Mike Rozier. (Quarterback Jason White spent a brief time in training camp but quickly called it a career.)
Those days are gone.
Some among the sellout crowd booed Johnson each time he took a handoff and almost as quickly was brought to the ground. Some even chanted for Javon Ringer, until Ringer carried six times for a net of minus-6 yards, that is. Johnson’s 13 rushes for 21 yards looked sensational by comparison.
While all of that took place, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck threw for more than 300 yards for the second consecutive week and moved into the league’s top 10 in passing yards (932) and passer rating (102.2). He did that even though he played more than half the game without his best option, Kenny Britt.
Even Johnson got into the act with a 34-yard reception on a go route down the left sideline. It was the second-longest play of the day for either team and easily the best moment of his season thus far.
Heck, there are worse things than being a pass-happy offense.
Most actually prefer to play that way. After all, more rules than ever are in place that favor receivers and protect quarterbacks.
Why not go with the flow? Three of the last five Super Bowl winners, including the last two, finished the regular season among the top five in passing offense.
“We did a great job of running the ball in the preseason,” Hasselbeck said. “We know we can. The success they’ve had here in the past with running the ball has been phenomenal.
“So if that’s our biggest problem, I think we are going to be OK.”
It also would be OK to admit the truth.