Johnson says Titans' run game has plenty of room to improve

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Chris Johnson says the Tennessee Titans can do better, and will do better.

That's not good news for opponents.

The Titans nursed a 38-13 lead with the All-Pro running back still on the field running the ball with 5 minutes left in their season-opening win Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.

Johnson, the NFL's 2009 offensive player of the year, opened the season running for 142 yards, and by halftime Tennessee had matched its rushing average from last season, when the running back became the sixth man in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards. The Titans finished with 205 rushing yards against the Raiders.

"When you first start out the season, you're not going to be as good as you're going to be at the end of the year," Johnson said. "So we're just still working right now."

Johnson didn't mind still being in the game late and getting extra work. He wound up with 27 carries. Take away his 76-yard touchdown run, he only had 56 yards on the other 26 rushes.

"Even though I busted that run, I still wanted to go out there and just get better," Johnson said. "That was just one run. All the runs before that run weren't really that successful. So I just feel that as a whole team, we still need some work in winning the game. As the year goes on, we'll get better and better."

Under coach Jeff Fisher, this is a franchise that is tied with the New York Jets for first in the NFL with 12 1,000-yard rushers since 1996. The coach said Monday that the Oakland Raiders had been scheming on how to stop Johnson since the NFL schedule was released in April.

"Looking at the tape, we had some options, we had some chances and there were opportunities for some big plays early in the game, and we just didn't get them done," Fisher said.

The Titans did well enough even missing those opportunities for more. Javon Ringer ran for a 15-yard touchdown, and Vince Young opened the Titans' first series running for 20 yards. Young finished with 30 yards on his seven carries even as they faced eight and nine defenders near the line of scrimmage all focused on stopping Johnson.

"Of course, I was getting frustrated, but you know I kept improving and know that eventually that it's going to work out," Johnson said. "Anytime you put in an eight or nine-man box, it's going to be like that."

As long as defenses focus on Johnson, that gives his teammates to turn him into the occasional decoy.

The Raiders bit on a play-action fake well-executed by Johnson and Young that led to the quarterback's 56-yard touchdown pass to Nate Washington. That was the third-longest pass of Young's career, and Washington's longest catch since signing with this team last year. Washington said the rest of the Titans have to be ready for such chances.

"A lot of these teams are going to come in here prepared to stop Chris Johnson and not the Tennessee Titans," Washington said.

The Titans better improve because Pittsburgh (1-0) comes to town Sunday with a typically stingy Steelers' defense that gave up a mere 58 yards rushing in its 15-9 overtime win over Atlanta.

Johnson's performance Sunday was his 12th consecutive 100-yard rushing game, breaking a tie for second with Marcus Allen. He can move a game closer to Barry Sanders' NFL record of 14 consecutive such games if he can reach 100 against the Steelers.

Fisher noted Johnson was better to start this season than a year ago. The running back had only 57 yards rushing in an overtime loss at Pittsburgh, and Johnson topped 97 yards only once over the first six games when Tennessee opened the season with losses in that stretch.

Johnson didn't mind all the carries. He had only four games last season when he had more than 27 rushes, and he said he felt good after Sunday's game. He also remembers what happened in Pittsburgh when 32 of his yards came on one carry.

"I feel like we had a little success against them last year. It's going to be a tough thing to run the ball against them. So we've just got to go game plan and get focused, just keep doing the same things that I've been doing," he said.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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