Thursday, November 1, 2012
Bears gearing up to stop Chris Johnson
By Jeff Dickerson
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Opponents have enjoyed little success in the run game when facing the Bears' defense.
The Titans' Chris Johnson is averaging 128 yards rushing over the past three games.
Entering Week 9, the Bears own the league's No. 2 rushing defense (77.9) and have not allowed a single back to run for more than the 81 yards Cedric Benson gained in the Green Bay Packers' 23-10 victory in Week 2.
Johnson hit a milestone this year when he became the second fastest player in NFL history to reach 6,000 rushing yards (70 games), but the start of his 2012 season can be classified as forgettable, at best. However, the tailback appears to have turned the corner. Johnson has gone over 100 rushing yards in two of his last five games -- he nearly hit the mark again with 99 yards on the ground last week in Tennessee's overtime loss to Indianapolis -- and is tied for seventh in the league in rushing (595 yards) and 13th in yards from scrimmage (723).
"Chris Johnson is a home-run hitter, man," Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said. "Any time he gets some daylight he's a threat to score a touchdown right now. If he gets to our second level untouched it's going to be tough to get him. We just have to get up the field and be very disruptive. We got to get our hands on him and we have to hit him, and when we have our hands on him we got to bring him down. We need to get hands on him even if he gets to the second level. We can't let him get to the second level untouched. But if he doesn't get to the second level, kudos to us."
Johnson's greatest NFL accomplishment came in 2009 when he joined Erc Dickeron, Jamal Lewis, Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis and O.J. Simpson as the only NFL players to reach 2,000 yards rushing when he totaled 2,006 yards and 14 touchdowns in 358 carries.
"He's explosive," Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "He had over 2,000 yards a couple of years ago. He's getting back to his form right now and they're trying to run the ball more. Any time he gets the ball he can go the distance. We just have to be in our gaps and run to the ball like we always do."
What makes Johnson so dangerous is that he's a threat to score a touchdown every time he touches the ball. In just his fifth NFL season, Johnson has 10 touchdown runs of at least 45 yards, which puts him in a tie with Simpson for third place in NFL history behind only Sanders (18) and Jim Brown (13).
"He's lightning," Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "He can hit a hole with a great deal of quickness, but it's his ability to cut back and break outside. He's tough. Gap control is going to be essential, but then is going to be a free hitter that has to tackle. We're going to have guys that are going to have to be free to make those tackles in space. We usually funnel the ball to a certain area and then the guy has to make his play. And that is what's tough, this guy can make you miss now. He can really make you miss. If we miss and we're not hustling, it can be a big play."
Tennessee head coach Mike Munchak says he thinks a big reason why his team struggled early was because of its failure to stick to the run game. Johnson barely touched the ball when the Titans suffered blowout defeats at the hands of New England and San Diego to begin the year -- a combined 19 times for 21 yards. But in Tennessee's recent stretch where they've won two of their last three games, Johnson's workload has increased to the point where he is averaging 19.3 rushing attempts per contest.
"The last four weeks, what we've seen on tape and we see with Chris and our running game is more of what is should be," Munchak said. "We still have a lot to improve upon and we still need to block better and all those things but this is more what we're all about. The first three or four games were definitely not (what we are about). The Bears are not one of those teams you're going to get right against running the football because they crowd the line of scrimmage and attack it pretty well and make that part of the game really hard for you. So it's going to be a huge challenge there, but if we can get C.J. loose a couple of times that would be a big part of us having a chance to win this football game."
The Bears do have experience defending Johnson, who was a non-factor the last time the two teams met in the regular season in 2008. The Titans did manage to knock off the Bears that day at Soldier Field, 21-14, but Johnson gained just eight yards in 14 carries and had two catches for 15 yards.