The Tennessee Titans Are Wasting Chris Johnson's Prime with Foolish Moves

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IMarch 20, 2013

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 17:  Running back Chris Johnson #28 of the Tennessee Titans runs with the ball against the New York Jets at LP Field on December 17, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Unless head coach Mike Munchak was bluffing this week at the NFL owners meetings, Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson can expect to see a big dip in his touches next season. 

And considering recently signed running back Shonn Greene will be doing the taking, it's difficult to see how such a change will benefit the Titans. Less of Johnson in his prime wouldn't seem to equal more wins.

Munchak told Alex Marvez of FOX Sports that Greene wasn't signed to only be a niche back behind Johnson. He's going to have a significant role in the Titans offense. 

We’re not going to have him as a short-yardage back, a goal-line back and four-minute back and that’s all he does. We feel he can play all three downs. He may get a series where he gets going and we’re taking over the line of scrimmage and you want that runner in there and we leave him in there.

Munchak and the Titans obviously thought very highly of Greene, who signed a three-year deal worth $10 million, with $4.5 million guaranteed. Greene ended up receiving more guaranteed money from Tennessee than Steven Jackson did from Atlanta on the open market. 

The money was questionable then, and the implementation of Greene in the offense looks somewhat silly now. 

In 16 games last season, the plodding Greene averaged a pedestrian 3.9 yards a carry. He finished under 4.0 yards a carry in 11 of 16 games, and of his 276 carries, only two went for over 20 yards. In fact, Greene doesn't have an NFL carry over 40 yards in four years with the Jets

Pro Football Focus rated Greene as their worst starting running back in the "Elusive Rating," which factors in yards after contact and missed tackles created (subscription required).  

Once Greene hit free agency, the already offensive-starved Jets made little to no effort to retain a player they once spent a third-round pick on. 

Munchak shared his completely opposite view of Greene this week.

According to Marvez, Munchak compared Greene to former Titans running back Eddie George. 

I know as a (former) line coach myself that we haven’t had a guy like that in a while. He reminds me of the Eddie George days -- a guy that can fall forward, a guy that’s physical, a guy that can understand his role.

If Munchak actually feels that strongly about Greene's looming role in Tennessee, expect Johnson's workload to take a severe hit. And his annual quest for 2,000 yards? Forget it. 

Paul Kuharsky of ESPN's AFC South blog wrote a smart piece about how Greene could eat into Johnson's touches next season. The numbers are telling.

According to Kuharsky, the Titans amassed 378 total carries (including quarterback runs) last season and 376 in 2011. Johnson carried 276 times in 2012 and 262 in 2011, while the top backup in each season received 19 carries in 2012 (Jamie Harper) and 59 in 2011 (Javon Ringer). 

If Munchak is serious about Greene's new role—and the money certainly backs up that idea—Greene is likely to receive considerably more carries than both Harper and Ringer received over the past two seasons. The percentages will go up for the backup and down for the starter, Johnson.

Unless the Titans plan to crank up the rushing attempts by a significant factor next season, this rather simple reality will certainly mean that Johnson receives less chances to touch the football in 2013. 

While he may not be the same runner he was during his first three seasons, Johnson is still only 27 years old—and he's certainly a more electric playmaker than Greene. 

Given the role as a short-yardage, change-of-pace back in 2013, Greene would simply be a vastly overpaid but correctly used backup. 

But if Munchak is serious about Greene possessing a significant role, he'll likely turn into an overpaid and overused running back who's cutting into the prime years of a much better much player.