PITTSBURGH -- Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson reiterated earlier this week that adding another 2,000-yard season to his résumé is an attainable goal. History suggests that Johnson's campaign won't get off to a rousing start Sunday in Pittsburgh.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have traditionally been harder to run on than a sheet of ice.
And Johnson, one of the fastest players in the NFL, hasn't found many cracks against a defense that has allowed the fewest total yards in the NFL in each of the past two seasons.
Johnson has never had a 100-yard rushing game against the Steelers. His average yards per carry against the Steelers (3.8) is almost a yard less than his career average (4.7).
“Another back, that might mean something but not a guy that can hit a home run,” inside linebacker Larry Foote said. “That's just like baseball. You strike out nine times. Two men on, you hit a home run. That's the type of player he is.”
Home-run hitter may have been the term most used by the Steelers to describe Johnson, which is fitting since his world-class speed allows the three-time Pro Bowler to change a game with one carry.
The Steelers almost found that out the hard way three years ago in Nashville.
They were firmly in control of an early September game when Johnson broke loose for an 85-yard touchdown run. A penalty negated the play, but Johnson would have changed the complexion of the game had then-Titans center Eugene Amato not been flagged for holding.
“He's a guy that scares you.” Steelers free safety Ryan Clark said. “If you stop him for 5 yards, 2 yards loss, 1-yard loss, it doesn't matter because he can go 80 the next play. You've got to tackle him. He's a guy you can get close to a lot of times but never wrap him up because he's so quick, he's so shifty and so explosive.”
The Steelers have largely neutralized those attributes in five previous games by striking a balance between staying disciplined yet also being aggressive in stopping the run.
“It’s not always about one team being better than the other team,” said Johnson, who has played against the Steelers every season since breaking into the NFL in 2008. “If those guys are smart and know how to stay in their gap, that’s how they know how to make a lot of plays. The (Steelers) also got some athletic guys that like to run around.”
Clark said the Steelers' physical brand of defense can sometimes exact a psychological toll from opposing running backs.
“I think one thing that happens when you get to play us a lot, play against Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison in the past and LaMarr (Woodley), the guys we've had up front, you get tired of getting hit,” Clark said. “And you know you're going to get hit and so we have to be physical with them early and kind of get them out of wanting to run the ball against us.”