- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Can you mention them together? Is it reasonable to ask?
Take the idea into the Minnesota locker room at your own risk.
"He's an explosive back, quick, fast, showed some good vision on plays. He's definitely a threat because he can also be used in the passing game. Whenever you have a back with that versatility, he's tough to stop. He flashed some good plays and he flashed some talent. But he's not going to be [Peterson]."
The thing is, he doesn't need to be.
After the Titans' dismantling of the Vikings at LP Field, Peterson certainly still ranks as more dangerous. But in context, Johnson can do as much or more because he's surrounded by a better team, a 4-0 team.
Peterson accounted for 30 percent of his team's yards, averaged 4.6 yards a touch and scored two touchdowns in a loss.
Johnson accounted for 27 percent of his team's yards, averaged 3.8 yards a touch and scored two touchdowns in a win.
Only four games into Johnson's career, the Titans are tempering their praise of him, and they should. Seventy-five yards from scrimmage is hardly cause for a parade.
But the speed, explosion and play-making abilities he brings the Titans amount to an X factor Jeff Fisher's teams have never had before. So those qualities make Tennessee dangerous in a way it has never been before.
"He's got as many skills as anybody I've played with, including Tiki [Barber]," Kerry Collins said. "He just gives you that burst, gives you that speed that just comes along every so often. He's a football player. He's got all the physical skills, no doubt about it. But the guy's also got a knack for knowing what to do with the ball."
On both of his touchdown runs, Johnson got around the corner and pulled up, able to coast inside the pylon knowing well in advance he'd gotten the blocks and won the race.
He's not going to be as singular a force as Peterson. The Titans are still determined to pound out some yards from LenDale White, who also will get a good share of goal-line carries -- he scored his fifth touchdown Sunday.
But it sure feels as if Johnson brings the same sort of voltage to games that Peterson does, and the one issue that might have held him back from being able to be an every-down back seems to have melted away.
"He's probably come along father than I thought he would on pass protections," offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger said. "For us to put him in on third downs, that doesn't usually happen with a rookie. As far as running, I've never worried about that very much ... If he does what he did on his two touchdown runs, that gives us something else where we don't have to pound him up the middle all the time."
Before I move on, here's the rest of a best-of collection of key people discussing Johnson and Peterson after the game:
* "We know we have one of the best backs in the league," fullback Ahmard Hall said. "Even though he's a rookie, he's playing like a vet. He's preparing every week and he's out there proving himself to this league."
* "They are both special players," Titans GM Mike Reinfeldt said. "Adrian's done it. He had a huge year last year. He's a bigger man. But they both have the ability to take it to the end zone every time, they just add a certain level of electricity to the air when they touch the ball."
* "He's got a 4.24 40, so if you give him the corner, it's going to be tough to contain him," Peterson said. "He did a good job, he ran the ball hard. I talked to him after the game and I encouraged him to just keep doing what he's doing, keep running the ball. And call me if you need any pointers."
Other things I saw, thought, heard or found out as this game unfolded:
Titans get more bang for buck: Unfortunately I cannot dig up the salary numbers right now, but I will revisit this tomorrow. Connect dollar values to the production of Bernard Berrian (who dropped two passes, one probably a TD) and Bobby Wade against the output of Justin Gage and Justin McCareins and the Titans are getting way more for their investment.
That may be an indictment of the Vikings' free-agent spending more than anything.
"They're good enough, they are definitely good enough," said Sharper when asked for a review of Tennessee receivers. "McCareins is a guy who runs his routes hard, makes plays when he has to. At the receiver position all you're going to need is when your chances to catch the football come, you catch it and make plays here and now.
"That's enough to help you to victory if you have a guy that's pulling the trigger who can get you the football. You don't necessarily need a standout receiver. Not everybody is going to be a Moss or a T.O. But you can win with guys who make plays that are consistent. They are 4-0."
Strange sequence: The Titans had three consecutive three-and-out series spanning the late third and early fourth quarters.
The first: One-yard run, three-yard run, incomplete.
The second: Five-yard pass, no-gain run, incomplete.
The third: Six-yard pass, incomplete, incomplete.
I was surprised by that last sequence, as it stopped the clock twice when the ball hit the ground, at 10:30 and 10:23 in the fourth quarter, while the Titans were leading 23-10. Typically a Fisher team would run, run, and run, ensuring at the very least that the clock would continue to shrink.
Heimerdinger's explanation made sense, and suggested that these Titans won't necessarily be doing things according to a predetermined philosophy, but maybe with a little more killer instinct and willingness to counter the defense they see.
"They were playing an eight-man front and our run wasn't working," he said. "I was actually kind of mad at myself because I had tried to run it earlier. As it gets going and you get a lead like that and you think, 'OK, now we can run it and put it away' you forget that they were No. 1 against the run last year. It's a pretty good defense and you've got to keep mixing it up like we did in the beginning. So I was kind of upset with my
self. They're playing man-free, so we'll throw it three times and see if we can make three plays. We needed somebody to make a play and I thought that gave us our best chance to make a play."
Heimerdinger said he didn't hear anything from Fisher indicating he wanted anything different.
The only variable that might have changed things: All three of the runs in those three series were White, not Johnson.
Dominating Haynesworth: Albert Haynesworth had two sacks and now has five in four games, an impressive total for an interior lineman. The first was a spectacular effort on a third-and-7 from the Minnesota 45-yard line. Steve Hutchinson pushed him way to the left, and Haynesworth simply dipped down, cornered, sliced back through traffic and wrapped up Gus Frerotte.
Can anyone explain why exactly the Titans negotiated incentives Haynesworth can reach pretty easily if he's healthy in order to get him to sign his franchise tender? He meets them, he can't be tagged again. He can't be tagged again, he's only going to be weeks away from free agency when the Titans' season is over. He's weeks away from free agency, there is no way he doesn't wait for it. He waits for it, and some team will, on the first day possible, make him the highest-paid defensive player in football. That team is going to wear a different logo than a fireball T.
Eye on Vince Young: I don't want to overanalyze Vince Young. The guy deserves some breathing room and shouldn't have his every move tracked.
Still, I checked in on him periodically on the sideline during breaks in the game, because his comportment has been an issue. He has to straighten out some of those issues to get back in the team's good graces. And he appeared disinterested and disconnected.
He stood alone, often the last man on the far edge of the sideline or sitting on an equipment trunk further back beside the bench. He did not interact much with players outside of pal LenDale White or quick hellos and handshakes. Yes, he had an ear piece to listen into calls.
But if the Titans want him to behave like a backup, following plays and listening in on every sideline conversation pertaining to play calling, decision-making and adjustments, he didn't appear do that.
Several people who watch practice say he's been off to the side, watching Collins' work from a distance. Typically an injured player would be in range of his position coach, behind the line of scrimmage, not on a sideline.
Why hasn't he been near Heimerdinger, quarterback coach Craig Johnson and reserve Chris Simms?
My interpretation: The Titans aren't going to tell Young what he needs to do now. They are waiting for him to figure it out.
Between now and when he's back in action, it would be a great development if he had a realization and thought to himself, "What am I doing over here? I talk about being a big team guy all the time and I am distancing myself from the fellas. I'm going to move over there and be with my guys."
Attacking Cedric Griffin: The Titans did well to go after right cornerback Cedric Griffin. Part of it was avoiding Antoine Winfield on the other side, but Tennessee clearly thought Griffin was beatable, and several Titans catches came against Griffin one-on-one -- including passes of 16 and 11 yards to McCareins that converted first-quarter third downs.