ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 20: Chris Johnson #28 of the Tennessee Titans runs against the Atlanta Falcons during play at the Georgia Dome on November 20, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Chris Johnson has been terrible this year. He has run for 509 yards on 160 carries for an abysmal 3.2 yards per carry. That makes it easy to forget that Johnson was the most exciting player in football just two seasons ago, when he ran for 2,006 yards and added another 503 yards through the air. He ripped off long run after long run then, and he still has the talent to do that.
And he could break out again against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, because the Bucs have really struggled containing players. That's when Chris Johnson is most dangerous: when he gets to the edge and gets a little space. He can make anyone miss and has the speed to outrun everyone the Bucs have on defense. Several running backs have smoked the Bucs on the ground by outflanking the defense, most notably Matt Forte in London. And there's a simple reason for that: the Bucs have very little discipline against the run.
The worst player in this regard is Ronde Barber. When the Bucs go to their nickel defense, Ronde Barber aligns over the slot and is usually responsible for containing plays to that side. And even when he's just the outside cornerback he has some responsibilities in that regard. But Barber consistently goes inside and tries to make the splash play. Sometimes that yields some amazing plays and tackles for loss, but a lot of the time it means the Bucs lose contain and give up the edge against faster running backs - and that can kill any run defense.
Having a young defensive end in Adrian Clayborn doesn't help either, and in general the Bucs struggle with their gap responsibilities. In a one-gap defense the defensive players have to play within their gap and trust that the other players are doing their job, but too often players ignore that and try to make a play they should not be trying to make. That leads to breakdowns in defense, and that's a reason why the Bucs have been so inconsistent in run defense, exchanging a few very good games for extremely poor games. And, of course, their poor tackling doesn't help.
This has to be a focus for the defense this week, and I'm sure it is. But even with the Bucs undoubtedly focusing a lot of their practice time on these games, they have to be concerned with Chris Johnson's ability, and they must find a way to limit him.