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Eric Goska column: Titans' running stats deceiving

Dec. 21, 2012
 
Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson's 1,159 yards rank seventh in the NFL, and he is averaging a solid 4.8 yards per carry.
Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson's 1,159 yards rank seventh in the NFL, and he is averaging a solid 4.8 yards per carry. / File/AP

Running out of downs

Teams with a 1,000-yard rusher and fewer than 70 first downs rushing in NFL history.

FDsTeamYearRecord
61Titans*20125-9
65Cardinals19954-12
65Seahawks19999-7
65Falcons20004-12
6549ers20075-11
65Rams20073-13
67Falcons19963-13
68Patriots19989-7
69Lions20023-13


* two games remaining to be played

More

This season, Tennessee again has a 1,000-yard rusher. This season, the team is again among those with the fewest first downs rushing.

The Titans bring their rushing attack and this apparent contradiction to Lambeau Field on Sunday. The last time these two met in 2008, Tennessee easily outgained Green Bay on the ground and won in overtime.

At first glance, Tennessee again appears to have a strong running game. A closer look, however, reveals its deficiencies.

For a fifth consecutive season, running back Chris Johnson has surpassed 1,000 yards. His 1,159 yards rank seventh in the NFL, and he is averaging a solid 4.8 yards per carry.

But rather than owning a running attack that controls the clock and wears down defenses, Tennessee is the latest example of a relatively new phenomenon: teams with 1,000-yard rushers that canít produce even 75 first downs rushing.

The Cardinals of 1995 were the first to do it. Garrison Hearst rushed for 1,070 yards, but Arizona managed a meager 65 first downs rushing.

Fourteen teams have followed the Cardinalsí lead including Tennessee in 2010 and 2011. Two years ago Johnson had 1,364 yards and the Titans had 73 first downs rushing. Last year, the numbers were 1,047 and 71, respectively.

Heading into Sundayís game with Green Bay, Tennessee has 61 rushing first downs. Only the Cardinals (55) and Saints (56) ó both without 1,000-yard backs ó have fewer.

Itís a far cry from 2009 when Johnson ripped off a league-leading 2,006 yards and his team amassed 115 first downs on the ground.

Teams that fit this 1,000-75 mold tend to be similar in a number of respects. Most have losing records, score fewer than 10 rushing touchdowns, maintain low times of possessions and have one runner that accounts for an inordinate number of yards.

Tennessee fits this profile. The Titans (5-9) have nine rushing touchdowns and a 27:24 average time of possession. Johnson has earned 75.8 percent of the teamís 1,529 yards rushing.

So why so few first downs? Why are Johnsonís 41 first downs rushing the fewest of any back with more than 1,000 yards this season?

Tennessee doesnít run as often as most teams. Its 322 attempts are fewer than all but the Jaguars (312), Saints (314) and Cardinals (316).

It prefers to pass on third or fourth down. Facing 199 of those situations, the Titans have opted to throw 167 times (83.9 percent).

The team tends to run less in the latter stages of games. Itís not a huge difference, but Tennessee has 167 first-half rushing attempts (859 yards) versus 152 second-half attempts (677).

In reality, Tennessee is a far more pass-oriented than run-oriented team. With 525 passing attempts (including sacks) it prefers to throw nearly 62 percent of the time. Only seven teams do so at a higher percentage.

This is not to say the Packers can look past Johnson and the Titans. Since 2008, Johnson has gained more yards rushing (6,804) than all but the Vikingsí Adrian Peterson (7,223).

And like Peterson, Johnson can break off long runs at a momentís notice. Among his five touchdown scampers this year are gains of 83, 80 and 94 yards.

Take away those three runs and Johnsonís numbers this season are 902 yards on 241 carries (3.7 average). Take away those types of runs and the Packers have an excellent chance of limiting the damage from the Titansí running game and emerging victorious.

Extra point

The Titans tend to produce more first downs rushing on the road (36) than at home (25). Their best outing came on Nov. 11 in Miami, where they had 10 in a 37-3 rout of the Dolphins.

Regular-season series

Overall: Tennessee leads 6-4.

At Lambeau Field: Titans lead 4-1.

Starting QBs

Packers: Aaron Rodgers (51-25 overall; 0-1 vs. Tennessee).

Titans: Jake Locker (3-6; 0-0 vs. Green Bay).

Once a Titan, now a Packer

There are no former Titans on the Packersí roster.

Once a Packer, now a Titan

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (1999-2000), defensive end Jarius Wynn (2009-11) and fullback Quinn Johnson (2009-10) are former Packers.

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