INDIANAPOLIS – Inquiring minds want to know what the Indianapolis Colts are going to do Sunday to slow Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson. How about the same old, same old?
Johnson has played seven games against the Colts, and they've shut him down in four of those games, including the last three times they've met. He has two 100-plus yardage games (the Colts won both) but three games with fewer than 40 yards. And he's only scored one touchdown.
The Colts, incidentally, aren't silly enough to point out any of those weak statistics.
“Chris has always been a challenge,” Colts rush end Dwight Freeney said. “He's a guy with Barry Sanders-type of game-breaking ability. He'll have 10 runs that you stop him and then, all of a sudden, all he needs is one and that one is big.”
Johnson has spent much of the last three seasons trying to match the hype he generated with his huge 2,006-yard rushing season in 2009. He was the sixth back in NFL history to break 2,000. Since then, he's been decidedly more human.
Here's the update, however: Johnson has put together back-to-back strong games in wins over the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills.
Johnson carried 19 times for 91 yards in the Titans' 26-23 win over the Steelers and carried 18 times for 195 yards in a 35-34 win over the Bills.
While the Colts were successful in slowing the Cleveland Browns' backs (55 total yards) last week, some of that may have been due to Trent Richardson's rib injury eliminating some of Richardson's mobility. On the other hand, the Colts are expected to have a stronger run defense this week with the return of Cory Redding and possibly Robert Mathis, and the continued progress of Pat Angerer.
“(The Titans) are starting to gel, they look like they hit their stride pretty good as far as the running game this past weekend, and (Johnson) is always a challenge,” Arians said. “He's as much of a challenge on the check-down as he is on the stretch play.
“You've got to corral him. You can't let him loose in space because no one is going to catch him. He's always been a speed matchup problem for every team he's ever played.”
Even with Johnson's play the last two games, the Titans rank 27th in rushing yards per game (83.2), a notch behind even the Colts' suspect rushing attack (26th, 96.5 per game).
Redding said he believes the Colts defense will be ready for Johnson and for the Titans' passing game, which is expected to be led again by Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback. Hasselbeck has been his usual solid self, completing 61.5 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and four interceptions in place of injured starter Jake Locker.
“Even though we've shown flashes of great things on this defense, we have yet to put a complete game together,” Redding said. “That's something that we strive for and we continue to prepare for. When we do, watch out, because we have a lot of guys that can fly around and this system can really make you successful if you stay true to the system.”
It'll be Chris Johnson vs. the system this Sunday. If the Colts can slow Johnson as they have in the past, the goal of a first road win could become reality.