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Two of NFL's Elite Running Backs to Battle Sunday

Posted Dec 23, 2010

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Chris Johnson’s speed is well documented around the NFL. He said coming back off a win against Houston last week will be an extra boost Sunday at Kansas City.

“Any time you end a losing streak and come back after a victory, you feel like you got your swagger back or you feel like you’ve got that pep in your step back,” Johnson said.

The last time Tennessee visited Kansas City (October 2008), the Titans set a franchise record with 332 rushing yards. Johnson rushed for 168 yards on 18 carries (9.3 per attempt), and LenDale White added 149 yards on 17 carries (8.8 per attempt) and three touchdowns.

Johnson, now in his third season, has 1,267 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns this season. He ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing yards with two more games to try to defend his rushing title from 2009. Houston’s Arian Foster (1,345 yards) is leading the league, Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew (1,324) ranks second and Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles (1,303) ranks third.

Johnson (5-foot-11, 191 pounds) and Charles (5-11, 199) were in the same 2008 Draft class, and Johnson said their success has “opened the doors for a lot of smaller backs coming out of the Draft.”

Charles has combined with 11-year veteran RB Thomas Jones to be the top rushing combo in the NFL. Jones has 828 of the duo’s 2,131 yards this season, and the Chiefs are averaging a league-best 168.6 yards per game and have rushed more than any other team (34.8 attempts per game).

“Even if you knock them off the ball and get the great penetration that we’re used to getting,” second-year defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks said, “they’ve got some great backs who are able to break and do different cuts, sort of like Chris can do on our team.”

Tennessee split games with Houston and Jacksonville this season. One key difference is the team that rushed for more yards won each time. The Titans (6-8) know the importance of bottling Charles and Jones if they want to upend the Chiefs (9-5).

“Jamaal Charles is real fast and an explosive guy,” linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “Thomas Jones has been in the NFL a real long time and they know how to run the ball. We’ve got to stop the run, attack our gaps, get downhill and get after them early, force them to pass and change the dimension of the game.”

Last week the Titans brought younger players up from the practice squad to accommodate injuries and activated eight defensive linemen. It enabled the Titans to effectively rush Texans QB Matt Schaub while Houston was trying to overcome a 21-0 first quarter deficit.

“I think it helped us up front last week on the defensive line, just to have numbers so we could rotate and keep the rush guys fresh at the end,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “Hopefully with Sen (Marks) coming back, we’ll get some help in the run game.”

Titans to survey field conditions

Fisher said footing may be an issue at Arrowhead Stadium because of the cold. He recalled a previous trip to Kansas City in which part of the field was frozen the entire game. He said a lack of footing favors offensive players over defensive players because they know exactly where the play is designed to go.

Tulloch said players will be able to gauge conditions during warm-ups and make some adjustments. The forecasted high temperature for Sunday is 29 degrees Fahrenheit.

“I think a lot of guys here will have to adjust our cleats and get ready for a different kind of ball game,” Tulloch said. “I’ve played there a couple of times already, so I kind of know how the field is. It’s icy, it’s slippery, so we definitely have to get our footing right.”

Titans kicker Rob Bironas will also make assessments in warm-ups.

“When it gets colder, the ball doesn’t travel as far,” Bironas said. “You just go with what you do in pre-game. You might change your distances.”

Bironas has 100 points this season, firing accurately on 22 of 23 field goal attempts and all 34 points after touchdowns this season. This is the fourth straight year the six-year NFL veteran has scored at least 100 points. He scored 99 in his rookie season and 98 the following year.

While on-field conditions require adjustments, Fisher said the Titans will expect a lively atmosphere from the crowd.

Nine-year NFL veteran Will Witherspoon has played in every current NFL venue except for Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis said Arrowhead Stadium is “windy, cold, exciting, (but) at the same time a good place to play.”

“It’s one of the league’s better places to play on the road, when you look at that whole atmosphere,” Witherspoon said.

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