Week 3 Preview: How much of a factor will Titans RB Chris Johnson be?

Posted Sep 22, 2012

Can Detroit continue to stop Chris Johnson and enhance their own run game with Mikel Leshoure's regular season debut? Tim Twentyman previews tomorrow's match-up in Tennessee.

The Titans hold a 7-3 series lead, which dates back to 1971 on the road in Houston. The Titans were known as the Houston Oilers from 1960-96. Tennessee has a 4-2 edge in games at home in the series. The last time these two played was in the Lions’ 0-16 season in 2008 when they lost 47-10.


Record 1-1 0-2
Points per game 23.0 (19) 11.5 (32)
Total yards per game 362.5 (14) 248.0 (31)
Rushing yards 82.5 (25) 29.0 (32)
Passing yards 280.0 (5) 219.0 (22)
Points allowed 25.0 (18) 36.0 (30)
Total yards allowed 299.5 (10) 403.0 (25)
Rushing yards allowed 112.5 (17) 155.0 (30)
Passing yards allowed 187.0 (6) 248.0 (20)
Turnover ratio -3 (26) -2 (21)


Mikel Leshoure, RB: Well, this is what everyone has been waiting for since the Lions moved back into the second round of the 2011 draft to select Leshoure out of Illinois. The Lions desperately need a running back who can crease a defense and get them out of some of the two-high safety shells they’ve seen the last two weeks. They need Leshoure to be the player they think he is.

Matthew Stafford, QB: Fans are still waiting for that breakout game from Stafford. Through the first two weeks of the season, he's thrown four interceptions vs. two touchdown passes. It’s only a matter of time before he breaks for a big game, and it just so happens the Titans rank 20th against the pass.

Chris Houston, CB: Houston hasn’t played since suffering a high ankle sprain against the Raiders in the third week of the preseason. He’s looked good in practice this week, but will there be any rust? The Titans have a couple big receiving weapons in Nate Washington and Kenny Britt.

Chris Johnson, RB: The fifth-year Titans running back has gotten off to a horrible start this season. His 21 yards over the first two games ranks 71st in the NFL and there are 11 quarterbacks who have more yards rushing than Johnson. Don’t be fooled by Johnson’s slow start, though. He still leads all active running backs with 12 touchdowns of 30-plus yards. It only takes one play to change a game.

Kenny Britt, WR: The Titans have said this week Britt won’t be limited in the number of snaps he plays on Sunday but will be restricted on the type of routes he runs to limit the stress on his surgically-repaired knee. Britt (6-3, 215) is the Titans’ big threat in the passing game.

Michael Griffin, FS: Griffin has made the move from free safety to strong safety in the Titans’ scheme and they’re still adjusting to the change. Griffin is active in the back end and leads the Titans with 18 tackles and a forced fumble in two games.


Keeping Chris Johnson Frustrated
It’s only a matter of time before Chris Johnson has himself a big game. I’ll go on record by saying he won’t finish the season with a 1.1 yard per rush average. Johnson is frustrated with his 21 yards on 19 carries so far this season, though.

“Of course it’s very frustrating,” he said in a conference call this week. “Anytime, no matter if it’s your fault or not your fault, and you’re not having a great year or if you got off to a slow start, you’re in a situation where you’re going to be frustrated.

“But you’ve got to know how to handle the criticism and know how to handle the interview and things like that. You just know it always gets better.”

Hopefully it doesn’t get much better for Johnson this week.

The Lions struggled to contain 49ers running back Frank Gore last week and need a bounce-back performance from their run defense this week. The goal Sunday for the Lions defense should be to make the Titans one-dimensional and force a second-year quarterback to beat them.

How will the Titans play it?
The Titans have played a lot of single-high safety sets so far this season, which is something completely foreign to what the Lions usually see. In both games against the Rams and 49ers, each of those defenses chose to play their safeties two-high to prevent the big plays down the field to Lions receiver Calvin Johnson.

Will the Titans play their brand of football or will they copycat off what’s been successful against Stafford and Johnson and the passing game the first two weeks of the season?

“We feel that there are some things we can get done with this defense we're going against,” Johnson said this week. “We're hoping they play what we've been seeing on film. That would be fantastic for us if we can move the ball up and down the field. We'll see if they go with some of the past game plans from teams we have played. It's a copycat league. We'll see what happens on Sunday.”

Can Stafford get going?
Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan told earlier this week that his quarterback has played “just okay” through the first two weeks of the season. When is the breakout coming?

The Titans have shuffled some guys around in their secondary and are starting a couple inexperienced players this year in CB Alterraun Verner and S Robert Johnson.

On paper, this looks like a pretty good matchup for Stafford. The Titans rank 20th against the pass and have given up eight plays of 20-plus yards in two games.

“Can we play better? Yeah, we can play better,” Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said of Stafford. “We can play better at every position, wide receivers, quarterbacks, offensive line, D-line. Everybody can play a little bit better. We don’t have any worries there.”

Have to crease them
The 49ers dared the Lions to run the football last week and Kevin Smith and Joique Bell didn’t take advantage of it.

Linehan gets a new weapon this week with Leshoure back in action. It’s unclear just how many carries Leshoure will get, but expect him to run early and often Sunday as the Lions look for a spark in their run game. He's got fresh legs.

“I think it’s going to be exciting for them. I know it would be for me when we get our guys back,” Titans head coach Mike Munchak said of Leshoure this week. “We’ve just got to tackle him. I mean, we’ve got to put him on the ground and hopefully we can make them one-dimensional.

“If we allow him to get going and allow them to run the ball on us, that’s kind of what happened with the Patriots. You know, they ran the ball better coming into the game than we thought they would. That made things a lot easier for (Tom) Brady. Obviously, this would help Stafford quite a bit if we can’t stop the running back. So we’ve got to do a good job there so we can concentrate on the other phases of the game.”

If the Titans come out and try to take Calvin Johnson out of the game, then Leshoure and the run game has to make them pay.

Back in action
The Lions are expected to have cornerbacks Chris Houston and Bill Bentley back in the starting lineup Sunday against the Titans. That’s a big boost to a secondary that was down three-fourths of its starters last week in San Francisco with Houston (ankle), Bentley (concussion) and Louis Delmas (knee) all absent.

Houston hasn’t played since Week 3 of the preseason because of a high ankle sprain, but Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said he's looked like a “Ferrari” this week at practice.

Titans quarterback Jake Locker has two touchdown passes and two interceptions in his first two games this season with a 77.6 passer rating. The Lions are still looking for their first interception of the season.

Locker is athletic and does have good feet, which could put a little more pressure on the Lions secondary with his ability to get out of the pocket and extend plays.

The Titans will also have their two main receiving threats in Nate Washington and Kenny Britt healthy for the game.

Having Houston and Bentley back should be a good boost for the unit.