Chris Johnson is in an impossible position.
That’s the way Mike Munchak sees it. That also is why the Tennessee Titans head coach has no plans to move the three-time Pro Bowl running back from his position at the top of the team’s depth chart.
“Expectations are so high, unless we run for 200 [yards] a game there’s going to be people questioning what he’s doing just because he’s paid how he is and he’s perceived to be one of the top backs in the league,” Munchak said Monday afternoon. “So people expect an awful lot from him every time he steps on the field.
“When you come short of that and as a team you struggle, then everyone’s trying to find out what’s wrong. [They think] something must be wrong. There’s nothing wrong with him.”
Munchak continued to answer questions about the running back and the overall running game in the wake of Sunday’s 27-10 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in which Johnson (14 carries, 34 yards) was outperformed by backup Javon Ringer (14 carries, 60 yards).
He maintained, as he did Sunday, that the equal number of rushes for the two was a product of how the game evolved and not of any plans by the coaches to reduce Johnson’s role. Nor was it an indication of what is to come as the team prepares for two opponents in the next three weeks – Cincinnati on Sunday and Atlanta on Nov. 20 – that rank among the NFL’s top 10 in run defense.
“I just played my part,” Ringer, who set career-highs for rushing yards and receiving yards (42), said Sunday following the game. “I know CJ is the guy. CJ knows he’s the guy. The coaches just handled the rotation.”
Johnson, who pursuit of a new contract caused him to skip all of training camp and the preseason, has rushed for more than 53 yards just once in seven games and has averaged better than 3.5 yards per attempt only twice. Those numbers are inconsistent with the four-year, $53.5 million extension he ultimately got given that he averaged 97.8 yards per game and 5.0 per attempt prior to this season.
“He’s working hard, he’s practicing hard, it’s important to him, he wants to win,” Munchak said. “He’s been handling it well. He’s not at all been temperamental about it. He’s handling things very well, like you’d hope he would – like a good teammate. He still has a lot of football to go and I think he’s going to do some great things for us.”
Tennessee remains last in the league in rushing offense at an average of 68.9 yards per game and has just four runs of 20 yards or more, one of which belongs to punter Brett Kern. Over the previous three seasons, the Titans averaged more than one run of 20 yards or longer per game.
Johnson is tied for 15th in attempts but is tied for 34th in yards and does not rank among the top 150 in yards per rush.
“It’s just a situation that I know it’s something we need to get fixed,” Johnson said following the game. “It’s something we have to get going if we want to continue to win and make the playoffs. Our goal is to win the Super Bowl, and if we want to reach our goals, it’s something we have to get fixed.”
Johnson has missed just one game in his career and has started 53 of the 54 in which he has appeared.
Munchak made it clear that will not change anytime soon even as he continues to seek ways to get different results from the run game.
“CJ is our starter,” Munchak said. “You ask Javon, he’ll tell you the same thing. … Nothing’s changed. We don’t feel any different about Chris Johnson. Nothing is changing – our philosophy hasn’t changed; we’re not giving each guy 12 carries or 13 carries or whatever it may be. Next game it could be 20 carries and three carries. Who knows how it’s going to work out?
“We’re going to play who we think gives us the best chance to win. I’m not going to project forward what could or could not happen, but, I mean, we’re going to play the people we think give us the best chance to win.”