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Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Titans' issues: No gains and losses, second down

By Paul Kuharsky
ESPN.com


Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Nashville sports radio host Willy Daunic is a Football Outsiders kind of guy who likes to play with numbers. Tuesday we talked about what’s ailing the Titans and he brought some interesting stats to the table.

Chris Johnson, who trails Adrian Peterson by 6 yards for the NFL lead through three weeks, has been hitting home runs but also making a lot of outs.

Including his pass receiving, Johnson has 63 touches for the Titans. Of those, 31 have gone for 1 yard, no yards or a loss. Daunic’s thinking: Johnson is like a baseball player with a strong slugging percentage but a batting average that doesn’t match.

I took some of this to ESPN Stats & Information for further review.

According to Alok Pattani of ESPN Stats & Information, Johnson has the second-highest percentage of plays for a loss or no gain in the league among players with at least 20 touches. Johnson has failed to gain yardage 39.6 percent of the time, second only to San Francisco rookie running back Glen Coffee.

Here are the worst 10 in the NFL:
Player Plays for 0 or loss Pct.
Glen Coffee 14 40.0
Chris Johnson 21 39.6
Derrick Ward 9 34.6
Donald Brown 10 34.5
Willie Parker 16 30.8
Larry Johnson 16 30.8
Steve Slaton 11 28.9
Frank Gore 11 28.2
DeAngelo Williams 11 26.8
Matt Forte 15 25.4

The Titans are the league’s worst team when it comes to plays for no gain or a loss (not including incompletions and sacks). Click here for a spreadsheet that covers this with tabs for teams and players. Offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger said once in a while Johnson will think home run instead of taking what he can get, but that the problem so far this season has more often been blocking errors.

According to Pattani, Tennessee doesn’t make any progress 21.7 percent of the time, ahead of San Francisco (21.2) and the Jets (18.3). The rest of AFC South for context: Houston fifth at 17.3, Indy 10th at 15.8, Jacksonville 15th at 15.2.

I think unproductive runs or receptions by Johnson lead directly to another big issue for Tennessee: Second down.

According to Elias, the Titans average second down is second-and-8.69 yards, tied for the fourth-highest in the NFL. The rest of AFC South: Colts seventh at 8.55, Jacksonville ninth at 8.45, Houston 16th at 8.17. Click here for spreadsheet that spells out the league on second down.

Second-and-long leads to third-and-long which means tough conversions and difficulty extending drives.

"If you can be second-and-5, you can do everything, you can run," Heimerdinger said. "Second-and-8, I think the first couple weeks I pushed it too much and threw too much. I tried to reverse that last week and it didn't work bad to keep us in manageable situations. If we're second-and-8, when we throw the ball, we've got to catch it, we can't have a drop."

The Titans had a 12-play field goal drive against the Jets, a 99-yard touchdown drive against Houston and a 5-minute, 23-second touchdown drive against the Jets.

They will take all the home runs they can get. But the sort of lengthy, clock-eating drives that are a Jeff Fisher hallmark haven’t been showing up, and that means a team built to hold the ball is averaging 26:33 of possession a game. Only Buffalo and Oakland are worse.

I did this post earlier this month on how runs for a loss don’t necessarily line up as you might expect for good running teams and bad ones.