Sure, the easiest thing for the Tennessee Titans would be to bench Chris Johnson and play Javon Ringer in his place.
OK. Why not?
The three-time Pro Bowl running back made it clear following Sunday’s 41-7 loss to the Houston Texans – a game in which he gained 18 yards on 10 carries – that he believes he is not the problem.
So let’s find out.
No one is likely to say that Ringer is better than Johnson but it’s not as if things can get any worse. The Titans already are the worst running team in the league this season.
It’s also not as if the Titans owe Johnson anything at this point. They satisfied any debt to him – and then some – when they guaranteed him tens of millions of dollars even after he stayed away despite management’s assertion that his presence in training camp was a necessary condition to any contract talks.
If Johnson is not the primary issue, then it’s one or more players on the offensive line.
That group of blockers has distinguished itself in pass protection so it gets the benefit of a doubt over a running back who looks less explosive and determined than he has in years past.
Johnson’s performance in 2011, on the other hand, is virtually indistinguishable from former pedestrian ball carriers like Mike Archie and Jarrett Payton. Quite frankly, at this point he’s nothing special.
“It’s not just Chris,” coach Mike Munchak said. “I wish I could say that we figured out why it is not working [Sunday]. We are just not playing well. That’s why it is not working. That is as simple as it can be. We are not playing well up front, the fullback, maybe the whole group of offense … we are not blocking plays very well and that’s why the running game is not doing very well.”
Munchak insists that he and his staff have tried any number of things to correct the problem.
There’s no reason to think that is not the case, but what they have not done is make personnel changes. The same five guys have started every game up front and Johnson has gotten the bulk of the carries – such as they are sometimes – each week.
So start with the easiest possible solution. Sit Johnson. If things look just as bad or – God forbid – even worse, then go back to him and make changes somewhere else.
"Yeah, we like Ringer. ... Is that the answer?” Munchak said. “I don't think so.”
Honestly, there’s nothing to suggest that it is.
Ringer’s yards per carry average this season is 3.0, a tick better than Johnson’s (2.9). Each has a long run of 25 yards and one touchdown.
At this point, though, it is best to know one way or the other. If Ringer struggles, then things are no different than they were.
And it’s not as if the season has been a total disaster. Tennessee is 3-3 and one game behind Houston in the win column for first place in the division.
This team can win games even with a mediocre run game.
Then again, maybe all the money and the expectations that come with it weigh down Johnson at the moment. Maybe the cumulative effect of more than 350 touches east of the last two seasons have worn him down. Maybe the fact that he has reached the end of what is an average career for an NFL running back means his best days are past.
Right now there are no easy answers. There is an easy option, though.
Why not start there and see if that ends their run game misery?