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As teams zero in, Titans' Johnson maintains great expections

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Following his 2,006-yard rushing season and his string of 10 consecutive 100-yards-plus rushing games when Vince Young took over at quarterback last season, Tennessee Titans tailback Chris Johnson figured he could surpass the 2,500-yard mark in 2010.

With Young, a deft runner as well and the starter from the outset this season, the running lanes would be equally, if not more, broad because of opponents' fear of allowing Young to carry the ball for big gains. So far, those lanes haven't materialized and neither has Johnson's projected explosive start.

Johnson's rushed for 354 yards on 94 carries, which gives him a career-low 3.8 yards per tote. Even more concerning to CJ2K, he's averaging even less in the passing game -- 3.2 yards a reception. That's nearly a 7-yard drop off from last season.

What gives? According to Johnson, teams have picked their poison -- him.

"They're putting eight and nine in the box pretty much the whole game and saying you got to throw to beat us," Johnson said diplomatically to reporters this week in Nashville.

When the session broke up, I saddled up next to Johnson and asked him to get a little more specific, since that's kind of the canned and expected answer when any team isn't running the ball the way it likes -- even if it's true.

He obliged.

Johnson said he has yet to face individual matchups. Instead, he's being bracketed, doubled or sandwiched by at least two defenders on nearly every play.

"Even on pass routes," he said.

More than his rushing numbers, the decrease in receiving yards is where Johnson's impact has really been marginalized. Keep in mind, he already has two games with more than 100 yards rushing -- both victories. He's yet to break off a big play in the passing game.

More frequently this season than last, teams are focused on Johnson and willing to let Young run. Opponents aren't simply allowing Young to break contain and chew up yards with his legs, but some of the backside help that was the norm last season is now keyed on Johnson.

"I'm running the same," Johnson said.

Tennessee also has played a pair of 3-4 defensive fronts, a scheme difficult to run against, hence the trend of more teams using the odd-man defensive line. The Dallas Cowboys, the Titans' opponent on Sunday, play a 3-4, so the sledding could be tough again. The Titans have lost to both 3-4 teams they've faced (Pittsburgh and Denver) and defeated 4-3 teams (New York Giants and Oakland).

With all of this, Tennessee's running game is pretty good. It ranks ninth in the NFL with 133.2 yards per game. Johnson is saying that it could be better. He said there have been system-wide breakdowns from him missing reads to the offensive line missing blocks to other players being off their spots.

Part of the solution could be Young being more effective in the passing game. Tennessee's 152 passing yards per game ranks 30th in the league. Without that threat, defenses are going to fixate on stifling Johnson -- and Young.

There might not be any answer to the multiple defenders smothering Johnson. He is going to have to learn to adjust. He did last season when opponents tried and found a way. Johnson's not discouraged.

"I feel like we're getting better," he said. "We got a lot to work on but, as each week goes by, the better we can get."

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