Mike Munchak is quick to say that he is in search of ways to improve his team’s run game.
The Tennessee Titans coach is equally decisive about the fact that he will not look for a different running back.
A day after Chris Johnson rushed for a career-low four yards on 11 carries in a 34-13 loss to the New England Patriots, Munchak said he did not envision a scenario in which Johnson would not be the starter.
“Anything is possible but it’s not something I think is ever going to happen with him,” Munchak said.
Through the first full day of games in 2012, Johnson was one of 25 players with at least 10 rushing attempts. His total easily was the worst among that group.
Among the other 24, Pittsburgh’s Isaac Redman was the worst with 20 rushing yards followed by Atlanta’s Michael Turner with 32 yards. Each also had 11 attempts.
Johnson’s long run of five yards, on the opening possession of the contest, also was the worst. Redman’s long gain was six yards, and seven of the 25 with 10 or more carries averaged five yards per carry or better.
“We said this all last year: It’s not all Chris Johnson when the running back isn’t running well just like it’s not necessarily the whole offensive line,” Munchak said. “… I know it’s not where we want it to be. We’re not happy with how it started.”
With Monday night’s two games remaining, Tennessee was last in the AFC and next-to-last overall with 20 rushing yards in Week 1. Quarterback Jake Locker accounted for more than half of that total with 11 yards on two attempts.
The Titans’ finished 31st in the league (last in AFC) in rushing offense in 2011 but never had fewer than 38 yards in single game. Their Week 1 total of 43 yards and average of 3.3 yards per carry far exceeded what they did against the Patriots, when Johnson, Locker and backup running backs Jamie Harper and Darius Reynaud combined to average 1.3 yards per attempt.
“No matter how it went I probably won’t evaluate it on one game,” Munchak said. “I’m not happy with where it started. You don’t want to rush for 20 yards or whatever we did but I’m not going to overdo it on one game [and] decide where we’re at.
“... We have a lot of things we need to work on. That’s just a phase of the game. We’ll evaluate it as we go over the next two or three weeks and see if we can improve upon what we did [Sunday].”
As he did often in 2011, Munchak said the limited number of carries contributed to Johnson’s lack or production.
He pointed to the opening drive of the second half, when the Titans went 80 yards in four plays — all completed passes — for their only touchdown, as the primary reason they all but abandoned the run game. Johnson had two just carries over the final two quarters, which accounted for half of Tennessee’s second-half rushing attempts.
Johnson was the team’s leading receiver with six catches for 47 yards. There were only three games last season, including the opener, when he had at least that many catches.
“We chose in the third quarter to throw more because we were having some success there,” he said. “… That seemed the way to go. … If we start moving the ball one way or the other we’ll stick with it. So we kind of got away from the run game even though it wasn’t being as effective as we would have liked in the first half.”
He did concede that there were times when Johnson made poor decisions and looked for big gains rather than settle on useful ones. He also said Locker, in his first career start, occasionally was fooled by New England’s defense and called runs at the line of scrimmage when the better option was a pass.
All things considered, therefore, he did not see anything to make him think someone else ought to be the starter at that position.
“C.J. caught six balls [Sunday]. I think he did a good job there,” Munchak said. “He’s a big weapon there also. Whenever he gets the ball — run or pass — he has a chance to make a big play.
“… We all know that the running game has to get better. We’re not denying that or act like, ‘Hey, we’re OK.’ We’re not. … We realize how important it is not to be one-dimensional.”