The Tennessee Titans finished the 2013 NFL season with a 7-9 record after a 3-1 promising start. They are disappointed not to have made it to the NFL playoffs, because injuries and special teams mistakes that accounted for many of those losses. However, as the Titans look towards the offseason, questions have arisen surrounding the future of both quarterback Jake Locker and Chris Johnson — Johnson more so due to the $8 million he would be due to receive next season.
Johnson has fired back at critics when asked if he would receive less money by saying, “No way. I don’t feel like it’s all my fault. It’s a team effort.” He also said that he felt like the team was not using him properly and is wasting his prime years. Many see this as him trying to place the blame on other people and as him being greedy, but when you look at his numbers it may not be so far-fetched.
I know a lot of people don’t agree with his contract and, more specifically, his salary for the type of production he’s had recently, but that doesn’t make his comments unfounded. Johnson has never been a ground-and-pound style running back. He’s extremely fast and one of the most elusive runners in the NFL once he gets past the linemen. When you look at the stats from this season, how can you blame him for being frustrated?
Johnson ran for just 1077 yards this season and only ran for over 100 twice after running for over 2000 yards just a few seasons ago. However, he had over 70 yards in eight games, six of which were wins. Now, if we look at all of Johnson’s games with less than 70 yards rushing, there is one underlying factor in all but one of them: Ryan Fitzpatrick as quarterback.
When you look at Fitzpatrick and Locker, they’re two different styles of quarterback. Yes, they both can get things done with their feet when necessary, but Locker is more dangerous because of his strength and speed. A lot of people forget that Locker ran faster than Cam Newton in the NFL Combine. When the pocket collapses on Fitzpatrick, he tends to fall to the ground to avoid a fumble. With Locker, defenses must account for the possibility of him breaking out into the open field.
In games Locker started and finished — except his first game back after injury against the San Francisco49ers — Johnson ran for 70 or more yards. Locker has the arm to throw a 40-plus yard bomb to Nate Washington, Kendall Wright or Justin Hunter while also having the legs to run for a touchdown from anywhere on the field on every play. The threat that Locker poses on offense freezes opposing defenses for that extra second Johnson needs to skirt through the defensive line and into the open field.
If that didn’t convince you his poor numbers aren’t entirely his fault, just look at Johnson’s biggest plays of the season when Fitzpatrick was at quarterback. Most of them were off of broken plays that led to passes. Johnson is a small back; he’s not going to bang his way through defensive lines. When Fitzpatrick dumped passes off to him just over the defensive line, no one could catch him. He even had a 49-yard touchdown run against one of the best defenses in the NFL, the Kansas City Chiefs.
Maybe Johnson gets paid too much for what he’s been producing recently, but you cannot put the blame solely on his performance. Hopefully the new coach knows how to utilize his skills, and the Titans finally get back the Johnson of old. He may be 28, but I don’t think CJ2K is done being an elite running back in the NFL just yet.