2012W01 CJ run11

UFR: Chris Johnson’s runs against the Patriots

The NFL's Game Rewind service this year includes for the first time all-22 overhead and end zome camera angle shots for every play. These angles are great for seeing things like where the safeties line up and what the receivers who aren't thrown the ball are doing on a particular play (and what receivers who are thrown the ball are doing before the ball arrives). I also find it very valuable for running plays, as TV's standard low angle shot makes it hard to see what holes are and are not really there. I hope to use it to bring you as many posts as I can about what really happened the prior week.

One of the big storylines out of last week's game was Chris Johnson's 11 carries for only 4 yards. He was reportedly hit at or behind the line of scrimmage eight times and failed to gain more than 5 yards on any play. Naturally the offensive line is getting a lot of blame. Frequently, it really is the offensive line's fault when that kind of thing happens.

Then again, I found the offensive line bore relatively little blame for Johnson's also dismal performance against the Texans at home last year. In that context, I thought it was using all-22 to look at Sunday's game and see how much of the blame rests on Chris Johnson and how much on the offensive line.

Hint: CJ has an awful lot to do with the problems affecting the Titans' running game.

Run #1, 1Q 14:33: 1-yard gain on 2-and-7 from TEN 22
Screenshot:by Tom Gower for Total Titans

Johnson eschews the hole in front of home, which likely would have produced about a 3 yard gain and cuts back. If he hits the cutback line quickly, he probably picks up 5 yards or so before a closing safety Patrick Chung brings him down. He instead runs laterally, though, and is brought down by Chung and Jerod Mayo, who's not in the shot.

Blame: The blocking is somewhere between fine and pretty good. Johnson gets several yards less on this play than the average NFL back would have.

Run #2, 1Q 13:12: 5-yard gain on 1-and-10 from TEN 40

Screenshot:by Tom Gower for Total Titans

Another cutback, and there's a big hole. Rather than pressing the run to the outside part of the cutback, Johnson runs to the inside and is brought down by Mayo (the defender on the hashmarks at the 43).

Blame: A successful run, but one Johnson got close to the minimum number of yards on. This could have been a really big play and should have been a better play than it was.

Run #3, 1Q 11:54: 4-yard gain on 2-and-6 from TEN 42

Screenshot:by Tom Gower for Total Titans

I'd love to know the design of this play. Johnson has three big holes to run from and eschews the wide open spaces with no defender up the middle and on the right to run left, where there are two unblocked defenders. Chung, the defender at the 35, brings him down.

Blame: A relatively successful run, but still one Johnson got close to the minimum number of yards on.

Run #4, 1Q 11:18: 1-yard gain on 3-and-2 from TEN 38

Screenshot:by Tom Gower for Total Titans

I'd hard to see in the screenshot, but Jared Cook is coming out to block Mayo, the defender at the 35. CJ beats Cook to the hole, then hesitates. That lets Mayo attack downhill aggressively; Johnson tries to elude him, but ends up short of the first down. Had CJ waited for Cook, he can use him to simply get around Mayo. If he plays it aggressively and doesn't hesitate, he probably gets just 2 yards, but that's enough for the first down.

Blame: CJ, not the blocking, is the reason Mike Munchak has a fourth-down decision to make.

Run #5, 1Q 9:33: 2-yard gain on 2-and-9 from NE 12

Screenshot:by Tom Gower for Total Titans

Outside zone to the right side. After running to the right, CJ cuts it back and is brought down by #74 Love for a short gain.

Blame: See that lane to the left side of the screenshot. That's a much better option instead of cutting back directly into a defensive tackle. CJ should have gotten several more yards on this play than he did.

Run #6, 1Q 6:20: 3 yard loss on 1-and-10 from TEN 18

Screenshot:by Tom Gower for Total Titans

Inside run. RDE Chandler Jones, standing up, executes a line stunt and hits the hole, leaving CJ nowhere to go.

Blame: Roos didn't fire out aggressively on Jones, instead waiting for him to make a move. That's most likely coached with a standup possible rusher who may be dropping. In that case, this is a rock-paper-scissors win for the Patriots. There was basically nothing CJ could have done to avoid the loss.

Run #7, 1Q 5:42: 2-yard gain on 2-and-13 from TEN 15

Screenshot:by Tom Gower for Total Titans

Outside run. RDE Jones, who gave Roos fits all day, bulls him back into the backfield. It wouldn't matter much, though, as there's nobody to block Mayo, who's setting the edge hard outside. Hightower is setting a hard edge to the other side. CJ tries bouncing laterally and Mayo brings him down after a short gain.

Blame: There's not a lot to do here. Cook could possibly have picked up Hightower for an extreme cutback run to the offensive right. Another back would put his head down and blast up the middle, possibly finding a gap to one side or the other of #55 Spikes. More likely, though, that choice ends up with 2 to 4 yards and you're still in third and long. Another defensive win more than offensive line failure.

Run #8, 2Q 12:01: 3 yard loss on 2-and-10 from TEN 10

Screenshot:

The call is counter off-tackle, like the plays the Titans used to find CJ running room against the Panthers last year. LB Hightower crashes in from the end of the line of scrimmage and blows up the play.

Blame: Offensive line. Hutchinson pulls from his left guard spot, and Hightower beats him to the spot. Eight years ago, Hutch very likely wins this race and the play goes for good yardage. Remind me again why it was a good idea to sign a 35-year-old offensive lineman. Credit to Hightower as well for coming in very aggressively.

Run #9, 2Q 10:59: no gain on 1-and-10 from TEN 18

Screenshot:

The Titans start in a spread set, then move Cook in. The Patriots are spread out (they were not packing the box to stop CJ), and the Titans have 6 to block 6. Both defensive tackles, though, play the offensive guards very aggressively, preventing them from firing out to pick up the linebackers. Instead of no unblocked defenders, the Pats end up with a couple and blow up the play.

Blame: Mix of offensive line and RPS advantage. It's tempting to say better execution and better guards could defeat these blocks anyway and pick up the defenders, but if the DTs don't go hard upfield as much as they do, even Hutchinson and Harris make the play.

Run #10, 3Q 0:59: no gain on 1-and-10 from TEN 21

Screenshot:

See lane. See Chris Johnson elect not to run forward into lane. See Chris Johnson get 0 yards on play. This is one of those plays where Chris Johnson getting hard behind the line of scrimmage is nonsense. If CJ had simply bothered to run forward, he gets at least 3 yards on this play and possibly more. Instead, he runs laterally, gets hit behind the line of scrimmage, and gets nothing.

Blame: CJ.

Run #11, 4Q 10:13: 5 yard loss on 1-and-goal from NE 1

Screenshot:

When Mike Munchak talked about failing to audible out of failed plays in Monday's press conference, this is the best example of what he meant. Vince Wilfork lines up in front of Leroy Harris. On this outside run, Wilfork is center Fernando Velasco's blocking assignment. A reach block against a player like Wilfork is hard enough as it is. When he's lined up not in a shade but directly over the guard, it's basically impossible.

Blame: Matt Hasselbeck. Some people will blame this play on the offensive line, but Velasco has no chance here. If you want to throw some to Chris Palmer, I'm fine with that, but Matt needs to recognize what's going on here. If CJ goes upfield more aggressively, he may only lose 3 yards instead of 5, but that's splitting hairs. 
EDIT: OOPS, this is after Jake Locker went out with an injury. Inexcusable play from a veteran here.

Conclusion

This isn't as bad as the Texans game, but it's pretty close. There were a couple runs where CJ had no chance because of the blocking and the at times very good performance of the defensive line. On the whole, though, Chris Johnson should have gained a lot more yards than the 4 he did, and most NFL running backs would have.

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