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  • What To Watch: Tennessee

    What to Watch: Tennessee
    Saturday, December 12, 2009

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    What to Watch: Tennessee

    1. Chris 2K

    The Rams defense has seen its share of top running backs this year, including Minnesota star Adrian Peterson. But none of those backs come with the home run ability of Tennessee star Chris Johnson.

    Johnson has elbowed his way into the MVP discussion by leading the league in rushing at 1,509 yards, breaking the 100-yard mark in seven consecutive games. It’s no coincidence that the Titans have gone 5-2 in those contests after a 0-5 start.

    There might not be a faster player in the league than Johnson, who once registered a 4.24 in the 40-yard dash. He has the moves to go with it; too, boasting an impressive jump cut and make you miss elusiveness that draws comparisons to Barry Sanders.

    More than anything, it’s Johnson’s ability to break a long touchdown run at any moment that makes him so dangerous. For evidence, absorb the fact that Johnson has three runs of 85 or more yards this season that have gone for touchdowns.

    No player in NFL history has recorded that many plays of more than 85 yards in a career.

    “I just don’t think you can have an 85-yarder,” Rams defensive coordinator Ken Flajole said. “Those seem to be the ones that kind of break your back emotionally, so we just have to make sure we do a good job of containing him. He is going to get his yards because it is like saying (New Orleans quarterback) Drew Brees isn’t going to complete a pass. I think when you are rare and you are talented, you are going to get some yards. It is just the explosive ones that we have to eliminate.”

    As Flajole points out, you can’t stop Johnson but limiting his big plays can go a long way toward a victory.

    2. Containing Young

    As though slowing down Johnson doesn’t present enough problems, the Rams also have to deal with athletic quarterback Vince Young.

    Young’s return to the starting lineup has energized the Titans, who are 5-1 this year with him at the controls. He has matured dramatically in the past year after the death of mentor Steve McNair and spending time on the bench.

    Young has come back with a vengeance, completing more than 60 percent of his passes and taking care of the ball with just three interceptions.

    Of course, what makes Young so dangerous is his ability to get out of the pocket and makes plays with his legs and arm.

    “They find different ways to get him the football,” Flajole said. “You probably see that they run him on quarterback draw, they run him on option plays, they run a little zone key play where he has the ability to throw a bubble screen if he gets the right look or keep the ball himself. They’ve been very creative with him. They do a good job of making sure they get the ball in his hands in critical situations and he is like having another tailback in the backfield.”

    To contain Young, the Rams must find a way to be gap disciplined and be sure tacklers when he does get out of the pocket.

    3. Going Deep

    After the Rams offense struggled to get the passing game going last week against Chicago, they were left searching for ways to get more vertical in the air.

    While Tennessee is vastly improved in pass defense since the beginning of the year, it still ranks near the bottom of the league in that category and the Rams should again have some chances to get things done aerially.

    “You need to be efficient in the passing game,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “There are a lot of reasons for that. Obviously, it starts with protection which our guys are really fighting their ***** off. You can’t have drops and when you throw the football, you have to be accurate. If anywhere along the lines those things break down, it doesn’t look good. That’s the reason for practice. Guys get used to each other, the timing, and where working very hard on that.”

    That doesn’t mean the Rams will come out chucking the ball deep on every play but there’s no doubt that they will look to take advantage of any chances their running game opens up for them down the field.

    4. Jack Attack

    Johnson won’t be the only superstar back in this game. Rams stud Steven Jackson enters the contest as the league’s No. 2 rusher and would like nothing more than to see how he stacks up against Johnson on Johnson’s home field.

    “I think there’s a sense of pride,” Jackson said. “Chris is having an unbelievable year. He’s having a year that I could only dream of having one day. I’m a big fan of his because not only is he a speedy guy, but he is willing to take a pounding.”

    Make no mistake; Jackson is having his share of success this year. But it’s been made more difficult in recent weeks because Jackson has dealt with a back injury that has kept him out of practice.

    “It’s always better when guys can practice,” Shurmur said. “I think we’ve seen with his performances the last couple of weeks, that he can function and actually do very well without practicing. He’s done parts of things during the day probably more this week than last. We’d like to get him back full time, but until we do, we’re anticipating that he’s going to perform well.”

    Things won’t be easier against the Titans, a team that ranks eighth in the league in rush defense. As always, though, the Rams will need Jackson to step up, play through pain and provide another strong outing to get the offense rolling.

    5. Breaking Through

    If it’s true that continuity is key for an offensive line then the Titans have perhaps the best starting five in the league.

    Tennessee has a mix of veterans and youth that has started the majority of the team’s game in each of the past two seasons. Center Kevin Mawae is one of the best leaders in the league and young tackle Michael Roos is an emerging star.

    The Titans line has allowed just 12 sacks in 12 games this year and with Young under center, it’s even harder to rack up negative yardage plays against Tennessee. The Titans also gave up just 12 sacks all of last season.

    And that doesn’t even mention the way the line attacks defenses in the running game.

    “They have done a great job and of course they are doing a great job in the run game too.” Flajole said. “They’ve got a talented back (RB Chris Johnson) back there and they are creating some holes for him and they make it double tough – a lot of athletes at a lot of different positions.”

    The Rams will need to find some creative ways to get pressure on Young and find ways to get Tennessee in third-and-long situations.

Related Topics


  • r8rh8rmike
    St. Louis Rams' Run Defense Will Get Severe Test
    by r8rh8rmike
    St. Louis Rams' run defense will get severe test

    Steven Jackson and Chris Johnson have mutual friends and bumped into each other a couple of times last offseason.

    "We actually were supposed to get together and work out this offseason," Jackson said.

    But Johnson is from Florida and Jackson's hometown is Las Vegas. They couldn't make the geography work.

    "We just couldn't match any dates up to be able to train together," Jackson said.

    Even minus those joint workouts, things have worked out pretty well for both running backs. Sore back and all, Jackson leads the NFC — and is second in the NFL — with 1,232 yards rushing. Johnson leads the AFC — and the NFL — with 1,509 yards rushing.

    So Sunday in Nashville, it'll be the league's No. 1 and No. 2 ground gainers going head to head when Jackson's Rams meet Johnson's Tennessee Titans.

    "I think there's a sense of pride," Jackson said. "But Chris is having an unbelievable year. He's having a year I can only dream to have one day."

    Johnson is on pace to become the sixth running back in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. He has averaged 126 yards a game so far; if he averages 149 yards over the final four games, he'll equal the NFL's single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, set by Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams in 1984.

    It will be up to the 28th-ranked Rams run defense to make sure Johnson doesn't run wild on them at LP Field. For most Rams defenders — maybe all of them — Johnson will be the fastest back they've ever faced.

    "No question," defensive tackle Clifton Ryan said. "It's in the books, for life, that he ran a 4.23, whatever it was."

    (Johnson ran the 40 in a sizzling 4.24 seconds at the NFL scouting combine.)

    "The guy's fast straight ahead," Ryan continued. "He's fast laterally. He's got great vision. A patient runner. He doesn't fumble the ball much. He's up there in that upper-echelon class with Steven Jackson, Adrian Peterson and himself — those are the top three backs in the league. Each of them has their own great dimensions that they bring to the game."

    Obviously, speed is the X factor with Johnson. Any time Johnson breaks the line of scrimmage, he's a threat to go the distance. Before this season, no one in NFL history had more than three 85-yard touchdown runs in a career. Johnson already has three this season, with scoring runs of 91, 89 and 85 yards.

    "He's here for a minute, and he's gone the next," Tennessee quarterback Vince Young told St. Louis reporters. "That's just a God-given talent. Some guys either have it, or some guys don't. Obviously, you see that he has it."

    The Rams...
    -12-12-2009, 11:42 AM
  • RamWraith
    Rams Defense Has Something to Prove
    by RamWraith
    Thursday, November 2, 2006

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    If ever there was a week for the Rams defense to go into a game with something to prove, this is it.

    One week after San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson ran wild, the Rams are up against another big challenge in Kansas City and the powerful Larry Johnson. With that in mind, Jim Haslett and the defense are doing everything they can to take the steps to ensure that Johnson doesn’t do what Tomlinson did.

    “It’s not about Larry Johnson and the Chiefs; it’s about the St. Louis Rams and the defense, and how well we play right now,” said cornerback Travis Fisher.

    Indeed it is. When the Rams defense has been on its game this season, it has been a unit capable of running all over the field and forcing turnovers at opportune times. That defense was the one that helped the Rams lead the league in turnovers as recently as two weeks ago.

    The carry over of those first five games lasted through the first half against Seattle, but vanished in the second half and last week against San Diego. The turnovers stopped coming and the run defense sprung a leak.

    “What they did to us hit our pride and guys are taking it personal and we have to go out there and stop the Chiefs,” defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy. “We just have to go out there fix the mistakes we made last week and move forward. We just need to be a little bit stouter and be disciplined in what we’re doing; just play our game.”

    The task at hand this week involves one of the best running games in the league. Johnson and Tomlinson are widely regarded as the top two backs in the NFL. The duo consistently posts big numbers in rushing and total yards, but run with different styles.

    “LT is a little bit faster and quicker, but their styles are similar because both of them break tackles and can take it the distance any time,” defensive end Leonard Little said. “They are somewhat different but they are a lot alike when they hit the hole and get downhill. I think (Johnson’s) more physical. He’s a bigger guy and he’s more patient and when he gets downhill, he’s hard to bring down.”

    Johnson doesn’t have the speed of Tomlinson, but he is certainly more powerful and capable of shedding tackles. Make no mistake, when Johnson gets in the open field he can take it all the way. This week will be Johnson’s 40th NFL game and in his short time in the league, he has made quite an impression.

    Johnson averages a touchdown once every 17 carries and has posted 3,060 yards rushing and 38 touchdowns on only 648 carries. In addition, he has gone over 100 yards rushing in 17 games.

    This season, Johnson is third in the league in yards with 644 and has scored eight touchdowns. He has also proved to be a solid receiving threat with 329 receiving yards, leaving him first in the league in yards from scrimmage...
    -11-02-2006, 02:44 PM
  • r8rh8rmike
    Matchup Breakdown: Rams-Titans
    by r8rh8rmike
    Matchup breakdown: Rams-Titans

    November, 2, 2013
    By Nick Wagoner |

    EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Three matchups to watch in Sunday's game between the St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans.

    The Rams run defense vs. Tennessee running back Chris Johnson

    Over the past two weeks, the Rams run defense has made huge strides, slowing down Carolina considerably and then completely shutting down Seattle and Marshawn Lynch last week.

    The Titans don't present the same level of running game that the Seahawks or some of the team's other opponents do but they have the ability to break big ones in the run game behind Johnson.

    Through seven games, Tennessee is 18th in the league in rushing, posting 102.9 yards per game. Johnson is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry and continues to struggle to meet the lofty standards he set while Rams coach Jeff Fisher was in Tennessee.

    Still, Johnson possesses the type of game-changing speed that can significantly alter a game. Fisher and former Titans such as cornerback Cortland Finnegan and end William Hayes have provided plenty of caution that Johnson is still capable of hurting the Rams if they don't do all the right things when he touches the ball.

    "His numbers are down but the skillset is not, it's still there," Fisher said. "He's still got the vision, he's still got the explosiveness and he can go the distance at any time. We talk about having to adjust our pursuit angles for him because it's a different speed than what we're used to playing."

    Rams receiver Chris Givens vs. Tennessee cornerback Alterraun Verner

    VernerIt's no guarantee that these two will square off all day this week but whichever Rams receiver has the misfortune of seeing Verner across the line is going to be in for a long day.

    Verner has burst onto the scene in this, his fourth season. He has four interceptions and a pair of fumble recoveries and ranks first among all defensive players in the league in disrupted dropback percentage, coming up with a pass deflection, batted ball, sack or interception on nearly 5 percent of opposing dropbacks.

    The Titans won't hesitate to use Verner and fellow corner Jason McCourty in press-man coverage. Verner is a physical, feisty type who will spend most of his day at the line of scrimmage when Tennessee isn't playing split safety zone.

    While Verner presents a difficult challenge, playing a team that primarily plays man coverage does provide some opportunities for big plays. Givens is the most likely to hit one of those home runs and the Rams could certainly use one this week.

    Rams defensive end Robert Quinn vs. Tennessee left tackle Michael Roos

    Quinn absolutely dominated Seattle's Paul McQuistan last week to the tune of three first-half sacks. He did the same...
    -11-02-2013, 02:06 PM
  • Keenum
    Larry Johnson expected to play against Rams
    by Keenum
    Chiefs' Johnson hopes to play against Rams

    Star running back just got new contract

    Associated Press

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. --

    Eager to chip away the rust, Larry Johnson is bugging Herm Edwards to let him run the ball in Kansas City's final exhibition game against St. Louis at the Edwards Jones Dome on Thursday night.

    But the coach, still concerned about the conditioning of a Pro Bowl running back who didn't set foot on the practice field until a few days ago, may not be easy to sway.
    "We'll see," Edwards said after a brisk practice Sunday afternoon. "If he does, if he wants to play, it'll be real fast. Don't blink, one of those kind of things. We'll see where he's at."
    Johnson worked out diligently before ending his 25-day holdout and signing a six-year deal that includes a guaranteed $19 million, the richest contract in Chiefs history.
    But with the season opener looming on Sept. 9, he's worried.
    "You can run sprints all day, but if you're out there running plays -- cutting, dodging -- that can get you up quicker," Johnson said. "You've got to be able to cut and move and do some other things."
    Thursday night's game at St. Louis will be the last chance for the 0-3 Chiefs to pick up a preseason win.
    "Football shape is being able to cut, move, accelerate. Run plays and come back to the huddle, then 35 seconds and run another play," Johnson said. "You run sprints and jog two or three miles. But if you're not in football shape, that stuff doesn't do anything for you. It's all about being able to move around quicker and accelerate and make quick decisions. That's how you get in football shape.
    "I'd like to play the whole game. But they're not going to let that happen."
    He said he planned to lobby Edwards for some playing time.
    "He knows where my heart is. He knows if I put on the pads and warm up, I'm going to want to get a few snaps. We'll see."
    Johnson, who carried an NFL-record 416 times last year for a team-record 1,789 yards rushing, figures he's about a week away from being in "game shape."
    "I'm going to push myself as hard as I can tomorrow, to really push myself to a point where I may be exhausted," he said. "But I think it'll be better for me and for the team if I push myself as much as possible."
    He's hoping he can help a struggling offensive line find its rhythm, too. Backups Michael Bennett and Kolby Smith have had little room to run.
    "People who don't run behind them don't really understand the ins and outs," he said. "I told (left guard) Brian Waters if I was back there, I know what's going to happen. I know how to react on certain plays to help the offensive linemen out. Obviously, those running backs haven't been back there long enough to know if this would have...
    -08-30-2007, 01:34 PM
  • RamDez
    Bulger's perseverance pays off against Titans
    by RamDez
    Bulger's perseverance pays off against Titans
    By Jim Thomas
    Saturday, Oct. 01 2005

    He got knocked down several times but got up. He kept throwing passes and kept
    competing. And by the end of the day, Marc Bulger quietly had posted some of
    the best numbers of his career against Tennessee.

    "Here's what you have to consider about his performance," coach Mike Martz
    said. "How we started, first of all. He's getting sacked and drilled back there
    to begin with. That normally would rattle any quarterback, I don't care how
    good you are.

    "Then all of a sudden you're behind by 10 points. And you can't get back and
    put your foot in the ground to throw the ball. They're all over you. That can
    be disillusioning to any quarterback, and then to come back and do what he did,
    the way he did it, I thought was outstanding."

    Bulger's completion percentage of 75 percent - on 21 of 28 passing - tied for
    the second-best total of his career. His passer rating of 128.9 was the
    third-best of his career. He finished with 292 yards and three touchdown passes.

    Bulger, as usual, played down his performance.

    "I've had better games with worse stats, I think, in the past than I did last
    week," he said. "So I just try to learn from the film."

    Now at nickel

    Newcomer Chris Johnson performed well enough at nickel back last week to hang
    on to the job this Sunday against the New York Giants.

    "I have some little technique stuff that I still have to clean up coming off of
    two years (of injuries), just trying to get back in the swing of things,"
    Johnson said. "But I'd say by midseason, I should be as crisp as I was when I
    first came out."

    Johnson was acquired from the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 3 in exchange for
    linebacker Robert Thomas. Despite entering the NFL in 2003, Johnson hadn't
    played a regular-season game until this season because of injuries.

    In addition to his kickoff return duties against Tennessee, Johnson had two
    tackles and forced a fumble playing as a fifth defensive back.

    "He's a big guy that has terrific catch-up speed," Martz said. "He really has
    unusual speed."

    What about Ivy?

    Johnson's gain has been Corey Ivy's loss. Ivy began the season as the Rams'
    nickel back and recorded a career-high 11 tackles against Arizona before giving
    way to Johnson.

    "I feel I played pretty well when I got in there against Arizona, and really
    haven't seen the field since," said Ivy, who played only on special teams
    against Tennessee. "I've just got to be ready when my number's called,
    -10-02-2005, 03:59 AM