Breakaway speed is tantalizing. Chris Johnson still has it: the ability to change a game with “one swing”. After a mysterious 2011 season in which he basically went “homerless”, CJ hit a few this year and showed that he can still be a difference maker given a reasonable surrounding cast. While it was certainly not a banner year for Johnson or the Titans, it appears they will be back together in 2013. But what value will the Titans be getting for CJ at $10 million? Would it be wise to consider saving the $9 million bonus he is scheduled to receive and look at alternatives? Or does the team simply have too many other cracks in their roster that need repairing?
CJ’s past season can be looked upon in 3 parts:
- Weeks 1-3: 33 carries- 45 yards.
- Weeks 4-14: 211 carries- 1,114 yards, 5.3 yds/att, 5TD
- Weeks 15-16: 32 carries- 85 yds, 1TD
Phase one was during the time the Titans were trying more one back sets and more run and shoot principles. Obviously it didn’t go well.
Phase two included Jake Locker’s absence with his shoulder injury for 6 of the games, a fairly stable offensive line, and a new emphasis on the running game--which included more fullback/multiple tight end sets.
Phase 3 was marked by a decimated offensive line. In fact, a closer look at the OLine’s issues paints a clearer picture. In a loss to Houston on December 2, tackle David Stewart, Guard LeRoy Harris, and about 12 Centers (that’s an exaggeration, but you get the point) went down with injuries, causing an unprecedented scramble for the balance of the season.
From then on it was difficult for the Titans to have any success on the ground. CJ had his electric 94 yard TD run against the Jets in the Monday Night win on December 17, but aside from that lone carry his December numbers look like this:
5 games, 84 carries- 207 yards, 2.5 yds/carry
So during the middle 8 games of the season, when there was more continuity in the Offensive Line and an emphasis on the run, his numbers looked like this:
8 games, 158 carries- 897 yards, 5.67 yds/carry
That’s very good production (double those numbers and you have a 16 game season that is in the neighborhood of “CJ2K”). It includes consistency, fewer runs for 2 or less yards, and an occasional home run.
However, the Titans went only 3-5 during those games. Plus, for the money he makes he needs to be better during times of adversity. Great players must lift the supporting cast when things aren’t clicking everywhere on the field.
Here are the questions going forward:
- What is the scheme the Titans are going to run with Dowell Loggains at the helm and how will it affect CJ?
- Can the Titans fix the offensive line to allow CJ to have a chance for success?
- CJ is still very good when given a chance, but is he good enough to warrant the $10 million investment?
- If not, what is the alternative?
The last question is the key. There is no alternative on the current roster. The Titans would have to draft “the next” tailback and hope to strike gold the way the Redskins did with Alfred Morris. But the team has tons of other holes to fill. It doesn’t seem sensible to use an early pick on a running back when there are so many other needs. The Titans also appear to have enough cap space to address their needs even budgeting the “Ten Mil” for CJ.
CJ is overpaid at $10 million per season. There is no question about it- especially the way teams are valuing Running Backs. But he is still a force that a defense has to account for when drawing up a game plan. That in itself has value regardless of the numbers. When given a decent chance, he can still be a very productive every down back. It’s up to Loggains and company now to create that chance for CJ and the Titans offense.
It’s a make or break year for Mike Munchak. While it is tempting to gamble, it’s best to sink or swim with a known quantity at tailback. It’s just going to cost a little extra.
Photo: The Associated Press