It is easy for anyone who has watched the Tennessee Titans this season to see that they need to be better in the red zone. For coach Mike Munchak and his staff, the solution to those issues is not as apparent.
“Usually if you can find one thing, it makes it easy to fix it,” Munchak said. “… You would like to be able to run it better down there maybe, but there is nothing that stands out other than the fact that we’re not scoring as many points as we’d like.”
How about this number? Zero.
That’s how many times running back Chris Johnson has scored on runs near the goal line. Zero from inside the 5-yard line. Zero from inside the 10-yard line. Zero from inside the 15-yard line.
Johnson’s shortest scoring run this season is 16 yards. That was the first of two trips to the end zone the Oct. 21 at Buffalo. He followed with an 83-yard touchdown later in that same game, an 80-yard run against Chicago and a 17-yard run against Miami.
“I haven’t had the opportunities so there’s nothing I can say about that,” Johnson said. “I haven’t been the guy down there. So there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Sure enough, Tennessee’s other three rushing touchdowns this season have come from Jamie Harper — each from one yard out and all three in consecutive victories over Pittsburgh and Buffalo.
Harper sat out two of the last three games with an ankle injury and was used only sparingly Sunday at Indianapolis.
Johnson did get the ball on first-and-goal from the 5 against the Colts — and he lost five yards. A week earlier against Houston, though, the offense had it second-and-3 from the seven and threw three straight passes. The week before that at Jacksonville, a first-and-goal from the 6 set up a six-yard touchdown catch by Kenny Britt.
In all, the Titans have scored touchdowns on 48.4 percent of the drives that reached the opponents’ 20 or beyond while their opponents have gotten to the end zone 60.4 percent of the time. They rank 24th and 27th, respectively in those areas.
Only five teams have fewer rushing touchdowns than Tennessee’s seven.
It’s not that Johnson can’t do it. He finished 2011 with four touchdowns, but three of those came from inside the 5. He had two one-yard touchdown runs, a four-yard touchdown run in addition to one big play (48 yards).
While there might, in fact, be any number of reasons for the Titans’ struggles near the goal line, a few additional carries for Johnson down there might just be a good place to start.
Other notable numbers to consider in advance of Monday’s game against the New York Jets at LP Field (7:30 p.m., ESPN) with an emphasis on the run game:
7 – career 100-yard receiving games for Britt. With his 143 yards on eight catches against Indianapolis last Sunday he now has at least one against every AFC South opponent — two versus Jacksonville, one each against the Texans and Colts. The other three came against Arizona (2009), Philadelphia (2010) and Baltimore (2011).
8 – rushing touchdowns by Johnson since the start of 2011. Four of them have come in two games against the Buffalo Bills.
9 – conversions on nine third-and-1 attempts by New York running back Shonn Greene, which is the best conversion rate in the league this season. No one else at 100 percent has attempted more than six. For Tennessee, Johnson has been successful on five out of six (83.3 percent).
28 – turnovers committed by the Jets, the second-highest total in the AFC. They are one of only two teams in the NFL — Kansas City is the other — with at least 13 fumbles lost and 13 interceptions thrown. Greene is among the AFC leaders with three fumble recoveries.
40 – first downs rushing by both Johnson and Greene, which is tied for seventh-most in the AFC. Johnson’s 40 are on 218 total carries. Greene’s are on 247 total attempts. CJ has a 7-2 edge in first downs receiving.