Conservative and explosive are not mutually exclusive.
Not in the preseason, at least.
Offseason alterations to the playbook and personnel were made with an eye toward making the Tennessee Titans offense more steady and sturdy, one that could rely on the run game to get meaningful yards on first down and valuable ones on third down. In Thursday’s preseason opener against the Washington Redskins it delivered sizable yards.
Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene scored on runs of 58 and 19 yards, respectively, before the end of the first quarter and the Titans built the first of two seven-point leads they could not hold. Washington answered Rusty Smith’s fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Quinn Johnson with a touchdown of its own, plus a two-point conversion, and Tennessee fell 22-21 before a paltry crowd at LP Field.
“The run game looked good,” Munchak said at halftime. “I thought CJ had a nice run and made a guy miss for a big run. I think Shonn Greene came in and did a nice job also. That was fun to watch.”
Johnson’s formidable improvisation skills had a lot to do with his long run. He cut left against the pursuit and wobbled rookie safety Bacarri Rambo with an open-field move that sent him on his way to the end zone untouched.
Greene’s was the product of a play that developed just as it was designed. He ran a counter to the left side, got behind pulling rookie right guard Chance Warmack, who cleared out a linebacker and allowed Greene to cross the goal line with no further resistance.
Johnson finished with 60 yards on two carries. Greene had 32 yards on five attempts.
"It’s very encouraging," Johnson said. "... This was our first test. Hopefully we can get better every week."
Perhaps more important than either of the long gains was the short one that immediately preceded Greene’s score. Munchak kept the offense on the field for foruth-and-1 at the Redskins’ 20, and Greene, a free agent acquisition who was 10-for-10 in third-and-1 attempts last season with the Jets, moved the chains successfully.
The Titans signaled their intent to establish themselves as a power team when they had two tight ends, a fullback and just one wide receiver on the field for the first offensive snap.
Several starters, including quarterback Jake Locker, played nearly all the way to halftime, at which point the offense had 151 total yards, 103 of them rushing yards. By comparison, Tennessee averaged 105.4 rushing yards per game during the 2012 regular season.
“I thought the [offensive line] played really well," Locker said. "You definitely saw it in the running game. They were dominant up front and controlled the line of scrimmage. We were able to run the football when we wanted to, where we wanted to. And that's hopefully something we can continue to do."
The Redskins had the NFL’s best rushing offense in 2012 but did not play dual-threat quarterback Robert Griffin III or starting running back Alfred Morris in this one. Even so, they ultimately outrushed Tennessee by 37 yards (163-126) on nine more carries, and four different players averaged better than five yards per attempt.
Their last touchdown was a nine-yard run by another dual-threat quarterback, Pat White. That was with 2:23 remaining and forced the Titans into a must-throw situation. Three penalties contributed to a net gain of two yards in a little more than a minute and forced a punt that sealed the outcome.
“We came out on offense and wanted to run the football,” Munchak said. “… That’s what we see happening with our offense. So that part was good on that side of the ball.”