Sometimes it's difficult to decipher between Chris Johnson's game film and his highlight reel. At any moment, the reigning NFL rushing leader can take the most ordinary play and turn it into a 60-yard touchdown run. And of all the Pro Bowl running backs that the Eagles have faced in recent weeks, Johnson is undoubtedly the quickest and most elusive.
Not surprisingly, the Titans try and utilize, as they best they can, Johnson's speed in the running game. Last season, Tennessee led the league in rushes outside the tackle. To keep defenses guessing, they don't run to one side more than the other – and that's not an exaggeration. Tennessee ran the ball outside the left tackle 78 times in 2009, and ran it 78 times outside the right tackle. Even more remarkable is the fact that this season, those numbers are split exactly 50/50 again, with 26 rushes outside the left and right tackle.
What's all that mean for the Eagles? It means that linebackers Ernie Sims and Moise Fokou will have a busy day trying to seal off the edge and limit Johnson's big runs.
"He's one of the fastest guys in the league, so once he gets to that edge you don't have much of a chance of catching him," Fokou said. "I definitely have to play my role, set the edge, and let the other guys come in and swarm."
After watching film on Johnson Wednesday morning, Sims said the Titans' playcalling isn't unique, just the player executing them.
"From what we've seen this year, I think they run similar plays to what the other teams run," Sims said. "The biggest difference is (Johnson) in the backfield, that's what changes the whole game plan. We have to have all the lanes secured, because if we give him any chance, on the front side or back side, he'll expose you."
As a senior at East Carolina, Johnson averaged 6.0 yards per carry and scored 17 rushing touchdowns. In his two-plus years of NFL experience, Johnson has rushed for 3,830 yards and scored 30 touchdowns on the ground (plus another three through the air). His career average of 5.1 yards per carry ranks him tied for fourth among running backs in NFL history.
Head coach Andy Reid knows Johnson well, and understands just what he's capable of doing on the field.
"He's a heck of a player," Reid said. "I got to know him a little bit before the (2008) draft. We brought him up here and met with him. We met him at the Combine. I like the kid and I also like the football player. He's an explosive player that loves to play the game."
With Sunday fast approaching, the Eagles defense will be facing No. 28 before they know it. And among the other great running backs in the NFL, it's Johnson's natural playmaking ability that sets him apart.
"He's a playmaker," Fokou said. "He might not hit you every time, but in one play he can change the game."
-- Posted by Josh Goldman, 4:30 p.m., October 20