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Is Chris Johnson Truly Back or Is This a Mid-Season Mirage?

By Lucas McMillan

A year after Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson signed a monstrous six-year, $80.96 million contract, he is finally showing signs of life on the football field. Read that sentence again and tell me if it makes sense. So he signed a massive contract and waited a year to start performing up to its ludicrously high expectation level? It’s tough to say if Johnson is “back” to his previous 2,000 yard rushing form, but he has steadily gained steam this season and is once again emerging as one of the most dynamic offensive threats in the NFL.

Last year, the first under his albatross of a contract, Johnson had one of the most disappointing seasons for a football player in recent memory. How much that disappointment had to do with fantasy football, a very real aspect of how people view football players in the 21st century, is up for debate. Johnson was a unanimous high pick, and single-handedly murdered hundreds of thousands of fantasy squads. Johnson rushed for 1,047 yards and four touchdowns for a relatively pedestrian (for him) average of four yards per attempt. Gone were the big plays, the 80-yard touchdown runs and shovel passes turned into sprints for the end zone.

But still, even last season, the worst of his career, Johnson put together stretches where he looked like the best running back in the NFL. Against the Buccaneers last season, Johnson rushed for 190 yards on 23 carries for a robust 8.3 yards per attempt. The next week, he shredded the Buffalo Bills for 153 yards and 6.3 yards per carry. But then, the week after that, he averaged 2.1 yards. That is pretty much Johnson’s career in a nutshell, and there isn’t anything wrong with that. He’s a home run hitter, and the Titans knew that when they signed him to that terrible contract. With players like him, you’ve got to take the bad with the good, and sometimes, there’s going to be a lot of bad.

In 2012, Johnson is once again showing the on again-off again brilliance that has defined his career, though he has been decidedly more on than off lately. Over the past five weeks, Johnson has had four excellent games and one putrid stinker against Minnesota. Here are those numbers:

> Week 4 at Houston Texans: 25 carries, 141 yards, 5.6 yards per carry

> Week 5 at Minnesota Vikings: 15 carries, 24 yards, 1.6 yards per carry

> Week 6 vs. Pitssburgh Steelers: 19 carries, 91 yards, 4.8 yards per carry

> Week 7 at Buffalo Bills: 18 carries, 195 yards, 10.8 yards per carry

> Week 8 vs. Indianapolis Colts: 21 carries, 99 yards, 4.7 yards per carry

That is a pretty impressive stretch of running, and Johnson is now averaging a healthy 4.5 yards per carry on the season thanks to this burst of offensive output. Asking if he’s “back” or not is beside the point. Chris Johnson is going to have some bad games, and some great ones, and in the end they will average out to a good season. Remember, even last year when Johnson was having the worst year of his career, he still averaged four yards a carry. If that’s his worst, that’s still pretty good. Last year just felt a lot worse than that because of the more than several one-and-two yard per carry games he racked up. But that’s Johnson. If you’re looking for consistency, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for highlight reel runs and three or four games a season of some of the most explosive football in the NFL, then he’s your guy.

Lucas McMillan is a writer for To checkout the week-by-week Titans schedule as well as the latest NFL and college football news, visit Football Schedule. Follow Football Schedule on Facebook and Twitter @FBSchedule.

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