Though his first three NFL seasons, Titans running back Chris Johnson generated 4,598 yards rushing, at an average of five yards per attempt and more than 1,500 yards per year. Through seven games of his fourth season, Johnson has 302 yards. He’s averaging a measly 2.8 yards per carry.
Several possible reasons for his slide have been identified. The Titans have a new offense, a new offensive coordinator, and a new quarterback. Also, Johnson has a new contract, which for many veteran tailbacks extinguishes the fire that drove a guy to take a pounding in order to get paid. Then there’s the fact that Johnson held out until the days before the start of the regular season.
Nearly two months after getting paid, Johnson discussed the change in his production with Jim Rome on his radio show. Johnson insists that the money hasn’t changed him.
“I’m still the same,” Johnson told Rome. “I’m still hungry because like honestly I feel like I just got this big contract but if God is willing to let me continue playing all these years and things like that I still want another contract. . . . I feel like if I wasn’t playing hard and laying down, the coaches and the players they would have had something to say about it. They can see I’m practicing as hard as I can practice and I’m playing very hard.
“I know for a fact I’m the same guy. Throughout workouts and things like that, same speed. When things are not working out how they had been working out a lot of people like to point to I’m not the same guy, not as explosive, lost a step, things like that. I can assure you that’s not what’s going on right now.”
So what’s going on? Johnson acknowledged that he struggled early in the season because he wasn’t ready to hit the ground sprinting when his holdout ended.
“I feel I came in not in football shape,” Johnson said. “Like I was in shape but not in football shape. So I feel like I’ve been in football shape for a couple weeks now, so I don’t feel like that’s the reason why the running game’s not where it’s supposed to be at right now.”
Still, Johnson offered no explanation for his lingering inability to perform like he has in the past, even though he’s now supposedly in football shape. Watching him play, he seems to not have that same ability to blast through a hole and rocket to the end zone, outrunning even any defensive backs who initially appeared to have an angle on him.
Johnson likely hasn’t gotten complacent, in large part because he hadn’t really taken much of a pounding. His game is premised on speed, not power. Right now, he seems to have neither. As a result, he’ll have fewer chances to turn things around, since Javon Ringer is earning the ability to take touches away from Johnson.