Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Analysis: CJ provides new dimension
By Rich Cimini
A few thoughts on former Tennessee Titans star Chris Johnson agreeing to a contract with the New York Jets:
1. Adds swagger on offense: Critics of this move can use a lot of numbers to illustrate Johnson's decline in recent years, but that would be overlooking the obvious: Johnson brings street cred to an offense devoid of stars and playmakers. Say what you want about his slippage, but the man knows how to score -- with 58 career touchdowns. The Jets, 29th in scoring last season, need guys who don't require a GPS to find the end zone. They have too many that do.
2. Projected role: The Jets intend to use Johnson in tandem with Chris Ivory. Presumably Johnson is on board with the plan or else he wouldn't have signed, but you wonder how he'll feel during the season. Remember, he voiced his displeasure last season when the Titans signed former Jet Shonn Greene, robbing him of carries. Johnson, who turns 29 in September, has to understand he's no longer a workhorse-type back. His days of averaging 290 carries per year are over -- or should be. Ivory and Johnson will complement each other nicely. Ivory is a tackle-breaking power back, Johnson the speed back with home run ability. Johnson no longer is the CJ2K of 2009, when he rushed for 2,006 yards, but he still has enough speed (assuming his surgically repaired knee is OK) to threaten the perimeter and stretch defenses. It also creates another wrinkle for the Wildcat package.
3. The new Shady: When he was the Philadelphia Eagles' offensive coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg had a dual threat in LeSean McCoy who was (and still is) dangerous out of the backfield in the passing game. Johnson brings that type of element to the offense. He's not as elusive in space as McCoy, but he's a threat because of his straight-line speed. Johnson made 42 catches on 51 targets last season, averaging 9.3 yards after the catch -- fifth-best in the league. For what it's worth, he has 272 career receptions, more than any other player on the team. With Johnson leaking out of the backfield, opponents will have to think twice before sending extra pressure.
4. The new Ground & Pound: Since Rex Ryan took over in 2009, the Jets have rushed for nearly 11,000 yards, the third-highest total in the league, and they've done it without a true burner in the backfield. They have been a grind-it-out running game, but Johnson brings a different dimension. He makes defenses pay attention even though he falls into the all-or-nothing category. He has been tackled for a loss or no gain on 410 rushes since he entered the NFL in 2008, the most during that time. But he also has gained at least 10 yards on 200 rushes since then, second to only Adrian Peterson. The problem is that unless the Jets add another threat on the perimeter, they will continue to see a steady dose of eight-man fronts.
5. Commentary on the QBs: The rest of the league might be pass happy, but this move reinforces the Jets' belief in running the ball. They believe a strong ground game gives second-year quarterback Geno Smith the best chance to succeed. It wasn't a coincidence that Smith's late-season rally happened when the rushing attack perked up. Johnson will benefit, too, having two quarterbacks -- Smith and Michael Vick -- with good mobility. It will create creases in the defense.