Posted September 30, 2012

Chris Johnson a bright spot for Titans in 38-14 loss

Tennessee Titans

Sunday was Chris Johnson’s first 100-yard effort since Dec. 4, 2011. (Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE)

Can a team find a silver lining in a 38-14 loss? If there was one for the Titans (who, by the way, also saw starting QB Jake Locker depart with a shoulder injury), then it came from Chris Johnson.

Johnson came into Week 4 with 45 yards on 33 carries this season — a miserable 1.4 yards-per-carry average. Sunday, though, against the Texans, who allowed just 203 yards over the first three weeks, Johnson broke through for 141 yards on 25 carries.

Johnson started strong, busting loose for a 13-yard gain on his first carry of the day. Later, he had four carries for 39 yards on a Tennessee touchdown drive, which came with Matt Hasselbeck in for Locker.

So, was this a sign of things to come or just a smoke-and-mirrors performance from Johnson?

Well, Johnson topped the century mark four times last season en route to a disappointing 1,047 yards rushing — including three times in four games from Nov. 13-Dec. 4. The first time he hit that plateau in 2011 also occurred in Week 4; Johnson followed that performance up by averaging 41.8 yards over his next four games.

It’s also worth pointing out that 44 of Johnson’s 141 yards came on the Titans’ final possession, when the game was well out of reach and Houston was playing very loose defense.

Where Johnson and the Titans go from here will start with what happens at quarterback. After taking a huge hit from Glover Quin early, Locker returned to the Titans’ sideline with his left arm in a sling. He injured that same arm — his shoulder, specifically — back in Week 1, trying to make a tackle after a Tennessee fumble.

If Locker is unable to play in Week 5 when the 1-3 Titans take on the surprising, 3-1 Vikings in Tennessee, it would keep Hasselbeck in the spotlight. The veteran QB was at the helm for Tennessee’s offense through most of Johnson’s frustrating 2011 campaign.

While Johnson has had his issues, the Titans’ inability to move the football through the air and their lackluster offensive line play have been just as much to blame for his struggles dating back to last year. The line still allowed four sacks Sunday, including the one that left Locker on the turf, but every aspect of the run game took a step forward.

We’ll know more about whether Tennessee can turn that promise into anything beyond a decent Johnson outing in an awful blowout loss next week.

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