With Shonn Greene backing up CJ, Titans hope to revive running game as weapon

Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 10:05pm

The score suggests it was a throwback game.

Anyone in attendance at LP Field or anyone who watched the national television broadcast of the Tennessee Titans’ 14-10 victory over the New York Jets on Dec. 17 probably felt it was best that the game film simply was thrown away.

Days after the massacre of young school children at Newtown, Conn., the contest hardly provided the distraction that much of the nation probably hoped. Even ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcast tandem of Mike Tirico and John Gruden reached a point where they no longer could hide their contempt at having to call such a sub-par display of professional football.

A little more than three months and one free agent signing later, the contest that once seemed best left in the past now offers what Titans general manager Ruston Webster, coach Mike Munchak and their staffs hope is a glimpse into their offensive future.

Among the few productive and noteworthy players that night were running backs Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene, now teammates in Tennessee. Days after the Super Bowl, the Titans made the decision to keep Johnson, which guaranteed him $9 million of his $10 million 2013 salary. Last week, Greene signed a three-year, $10 million contract the day his deal with the Jets expired.

“We were looking for a big back to complement [Johnson], and [Greene] is the back that we targeted,” Webster said. “He played well against us on Monday Night Football.”

“Well,” of course, is relative in what was the lowest-scoring Titans’ game of the season and the one that officially ended the Jets’ playoff hopes.

Each offense lacked something that night but the game was, however, illuminating in terms of the way the Titans hope Johnson and Greene can work together. The former stole the show with the latest — and longest — highlight run of his career. The former was effective in a completely different manner. His ability to get between the tackles and gain meaningful yards got his team off to a good start.

Whether it works or not remains to be seen, but the partnership already is something of a departure for the franchise that has featured the running game for the vast majority of seasons since it relocated from Houston. Not since 2004, when they signed Antowain Smith, have the Titans relied on a free agent running back as a significant piece of their offense.

They did have a couple years with Travis Henry, who was acquired in a trade, but mostly they have relied on draft picks, as was the case when Johnson and LenDale White worked in tandem. In recent years, Javon Ringer and Jamie Harper, the last two running backs drafted, have failed to add any sort of consistent production.

“The thinking here more is that the type of back we wanted was a guy like Shonn that has been in a system similar where he is used to the two backs carrying the ball and the fact that there may be times when he gets more opportunities one week than the next,” Munchak said. “CJ is obviously our main back and will be and continue to be, just like when CJ came in with LenDale.”

Johnson stole the show when he set a franchise record with a 94-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. On second-and-9 from the Tennessee 6, he cut off a block by center Kyle DeVan, got into the open field and ran untouched to the end zone.

It was a vintage moment for a player who set — and still holds — the NFL scouting combine record for the fastest 40-yard dash time and who twice has had as many touchdown runs of 80 yards or more in a single season (three) as any other player has had in a career. The moment was enhanced for much of the nation by the fact that he had written the names of the Newtown victims on his shoes as a tribute.

“It’s a situation that just I feel like once I get through the line or whatever, I don’t feel like I can get caught,” Johnson said that night. “It’s a situation where a lot of teams like to play a lot of guys in the box for me.  Anytime you do that, you are not going to have a lot of good runs like that, but you’ve got to take advantage when they slip. When they slip, you’ve just got to make them pay for it.”

There were, in fact, plenty of times in that contest when the Jets kept him hemmed in. Nine of his 21 carries went for one yard or less, three of which lost yards including one that went 10 yards backward on a first-quarter, third-down play. He finished with 122 rushing yards — 28 of them on 20 attempts and 94 on that one spectacular, emotional run.

Ten of his rushes were on first down but none gained more than three yards. In fact, the play that preceded his record-setting dash was a one-yard gain on first down.

“I think he is a phenomenal player,” Greene said. “He is very explosive. He is very talented. He can takeoff whenever.

“I think just with our different styles, we can keep defenses on their toes. You have to prepare for him with his speed and getting to the outside and then coming with me with the power and the downhill stuff.”

Greene was the Jets’ best offensive player that night with 68 rushing yards on 13 carries, the bulk of them on first down. In stark contrast to Johnson’s performance, five of his nine first-down attempts gained four yards or more and one went for fewer than three yards.

New York took an early 3-0 lead with a 13-play, 39-yard drive that included three Greene rushes on first downs for six, three and three yards, respectively. That drive included three of the Jets’ five third-down conversions in contest. The Titans had moved the chains on third down just twice.

“Obviously, he’s good in short-yard, goal-line situations, but we feel he’s a back that’s good in all three downs,” Munchak said. “I love the way he runs. It’s downhill. … That’s the thing that was missing in our offense, so we felt that was a great addition.”

17 Comments on this post:

By: jwk6179 on 3/25/13 at 8:13

The Titans should spend their time focusing on becoming a good football team and a lot less time trying to come up with nickname for their running attack so they can market T-shirts. What good is it come up with quirky nickname for their running back tandem before we even have a chance to see if they can work well together. Let them become a good running back tandem, then come up with a nickname for their running attack,

By: Wild Bill on 3/25/13 at 8:14

Once again, the Titans are not using this type of running back set up for the best result. The lead back needs to be the short yardage punishing back. With this set up the defense gets settled into defending at a slightly slow speed. Then just like a change up in baseball but reversed you send end CJ and all the sudden the ball I mean CJ is flying past the defenders.

By: courier37027 on 3/25/13 at 10:14

Make every home game a Code Blue event. That nickname stunt, for some reason, seems to fool the masses every time.

By: TITAN1 on 3/25/13 at 12:06

It fooled you, courier. Every time the Titans have a code blue, you think "Blue light special" and run down to your local K-Mart in your Bermuda shorts to get your buy one get one free toilet paper. One of your highlights.

By: courier37027 on 3/25/13 at 1:08

Code Blue gets the Titans head coach giddy like a teenage cheerleader. C'mon, y'all, get behind this team. If ye ain't fer us you must be agin' us.

I am glad NCP sets the record straight that last year's Jets v. Titans game. That horrnedous display of alleged professional athletes at the highest level did not measure up to gilded turd status.

By: TITAN1 on 3/25/13 at 2:27

Neither do marathons, but idiots run in them. BORING!

By: courier37027 on 3/25/13 at 3:53

T1, are you calling Jeff Fisher an idiot? As I recall he ran a marathon

By: courier37027 on 3/25/13 at 4:06

Jeff Fisher ran 2004 Boston Marathon. The late Pat Tillman ran 2000 Avenue of the America's Marathon. T1, want to tell Tillman's family he is an idiot?

Back to football IQ (which you are sorely lacking) Bobby Beathard--and look up the name if you do not recognize him--has run dozens of marathons. Oh, and he was GM to about five or so Super Bowl winners.

T1, please quit while you are behind. This banter is making you look like a chump.

By: TITAN1 on 3/25/13 at 4:06

No, there are some good people who run them with the idiots. LOL!

By: courier37027 on 3/25/13 at 4:10

T1, your lack of commitment to anything you say minutes earlier is veering you quickly to troll status. Be gone, young man. Come back and play on the computer when your parents can supervise you. And when you can pull that foot out of your mouth...heh heh.

By: courier37027 on 3/25/13 at 4:11

One error on my part. Fisher ran 2004 Country Music Marathon, not Boston. My apologies, but a marathon nonetheless...and Fisher is an idiot marathoner by T1's standards.

By: TITAN1 on 3/25/13 at 4:13

C, give it up. You can't stand anyone who likes our local teams or our local media. It is like you are obsessed. Jealousy, envy, and joy sucking are your traits.

By: TITAN1 on 3/25/13 at 4:18

C, thanks for the young man compliment, but I'm older than you. You are very bitter and miserable. I have lived here all my 57 years and I love it here.

By: courier37027 on 3/25/13 at 4:28

T1, you may be 57 and lived here all your life, but the fact remains you assimilated marathon runners (where I listed three successful current or former NFL members) as idiots. This is yet another example of your two modes of board posting: either you type without thinking, or you retract years later what you said (see Vince Young and Adam Jones support). We have been through this enough. Your obsession against anything anti-Titans is bordering on man-crush. Not only do you take me to task, but seem to have an answer for everyone who opposes your views. Thankfully, most who oppose you are rooted in logic and real world perceptions.

By: TITAN1 on 3/25/13 at 7:02

C, you and some others here ALWAYS trash the Titans and the local media. There are people who have constructive criticism and still say good things when they do well. You and a few others use this forum to whine and joy suck. You also have a bad memory or just like to lie when when it comes to Pacman and VY. I supported both of them being on the Titans up to a certain point, just as 1000s of other fans did. I said both were stupid for the off field stuff, but had done nothing to be kicked off the team until the Vegas incident for pacman and the cussing out of coach Fisher for VY. You said I said they could do whatever they wanted as long as they scored TDs. There is your memory lapse again or you just continued to lie. I have even told you on three different occasions who did say that, but you don't want to admit you were wrong or you want to continue the lie. Only you know which it is. As for marathons, I pulled one of your stunts and jumped on something that you like. I really couldn't care less if you or Jeff Fisher runs in them or not, to me they are boring, but if you like then that is fine. I am a Titans, Preds, Sounds, Vandy, MTSU, Lipscomb, Belmont TSU, and UT fan. I really don't care if you or anyone else likes it or not. You love to joy suck, not sure why, but you do and I must get amused by feeding trolls. I don't lose sleep over anything you or anyone else says. Negative people love misery and you want others to join you. I am a very positive and happy person who loves God and my family. Everything else is secondary. Have a great night, buddy!

By: TITAN1 on 3/25/13 at 8:01

courier, everything I have said is true including the part about when I stopped supporting those players and it was someone else who said they can do whatever they want off the field. The problem is how I went overboard in my support for them. I know this is just a message board and I don't have to say anything, but the truth is I was drinking a lot back then, way too much. Posting and drinking doesn't go together. Alcohol really doesn't go with anything. I'm proud to say I quit almost four years ago and it is the best thing I have ever done. I don't know why, but I just wanted to share that.

By: courier37027 on 3/26/13 at 11:11

T1, don't sweat it, bro. Message board is fun and we all need thick skin. End of day it is all opinion. Football and sports should be way down the list. I admire your priorities. Your opinions are bat crap crazy at times, ha ha.