Analysis Notebook: TNF, Week 11
Remember when Chris Johnson was one of the most feared runners in the league? A member of the 2k rushing club, Johnson was spectacular for a while before struggling behind ailing Tennessee blocking and never really recovering.
This season we have seen glimpses of the old Johnson, however, and the investment from Tennessee in a renewed, strengthened offensive line under Head Coach Mike Munchak, a former offensive lineman himself, has meant he is seeing more of the old holes than he has in recent times. He finished last night’s game with 17 carries for 86 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and it is the second touchdown in particular that I think highlights the best of Chris Johnson, and is proof that CJ2K still exists.
Indianapolis @ Tennessee | 1st Q, 4:13
The Titans were already 7 up by the time of this play, and this score gave them a 14-0 lead which they would later go on to squander. Johnson is known for trying to bounce plays to the outside and outrunning people to space, but at his best he has always been an effective inside runner, as opposed to a guy like Reggie Bush. On this play, the Titans are trying to run off left guard, with LT Michael Roos blocking to the outside and free-agent acquisition Andy Levitre at LG blocking in to open up the gap. Roos does his part, but Levitre is actually beaten across his face by Ricky Jean-Francois to close the intended point of attack. Levitre recovers well, and correctly adjusts to block his man to the outside now, hoping that he can open the play-side A-gap in place of the closing B-gap.
Johnson reads this adjustment well on the fly, but has a problem in the shape of Colts linebacker Pat Angerer sitting in the hole. In order to hit the A-gap and not be stuffed in the hole Johnson needs to do something to get Angerer to move, and he breaks out a juke move just before the hole, faking to the inside as if he is going to cut past that hole and head off to the right side. What makes this move so impressive to me is the way in which Johnson is able to cut given the position of his feet in the move. Ordinarily, when people break out a cut like this the foot they want to cut off is facing back toward where they want to go, but Johnson’s is facing in the opposite direction. He is able to cut back hard on an outside foot that is facing the wrong direction.
I’m sure it has little to do with Angerer’s reaction, given what he can see from his position, but the move in its entirety does what he needed it to, selling the linebacker completely and causing him to jump to the inside, away from the hole and into a wall of traffic. By the time he realizes he has been duped, it is too late to get back and fill the hole to stop Johnson. The best he can manage, given the acceleration that the running back has, is to make a forlorn dive at his ankles as he goes past.
At this point it would already be a pretty impressive run, and a successful one for the offense, but Johnson isn’t done. He has safety Antoine Bethea coming across to meet him short of the goal line and instead of trying to put a move on him too, absorbs a huge hit and manages to force his way across the goal line with a second effort. At the point Bethea hits him square I would have said there was virtually no chance Johnson would score on the play, and given the fact that he wasn’t even able to roll off that impact, but rather absorbed it fully, stopping his momentum entirely before he was able to regather himself and power to the goal line, it is even more impressive. He was fully 2 yards shy when his momentum was blown apart by the hit from a 205lb safety, and he was rocked back on contact, but he somehow regained his footing and forced his way across the goal line for the score.
This run could easily have been on Johnson’s 2009 tape without looking out of place, and though he is actually averaging the lowest figure of his career this season, runs like this show that there is still a lot of talent left in him.
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