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CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

After Further Review: Johnson's struggles start with O-line

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There are some struggling running backs early this season, including Tennessee Titans star Chris Johnson, the back with the new mega-contract.

I don't believe in paying backs big money, and I meant to make that the focus here when talking about Johnson, Carolina's DeAngelo Williams and San Francisco's Frank Gore, three backs with new deals who are off to slow starts.

But I instead decided to focus on Johnson. There is a great belief that his slow start is attributed to his missing training camp and the preseason in a contract holdout.

Watching the Titans-Broncos game last week says otherwise. Johnson rushed for 21 yards on 13 carries, but even if he had spent the entire summer with the Titans rather than working out on his own, it wouldn't have mattered.

There was no room to run.

Of Johnson's 13 rushes, the Broncos had penetration in the backfield on 10 of them. Johnson's longest rush on the day was 7 yards. He did have a 12-yard run, one of the few where the line got push, but it was called back for holding on tight end Craig Stevens. Another 4-yard run was also called back for holding.

The Titans offensive line and tight ends were whipped in the run game by the Denver defensive front.

Johnson is a runner who needs room to get going. He's a home-run threat, not a grinder. If the Titans are to get him going, they need to get more push.

So let's not blame his slow start on the holdout.

Film Study (10 things I saw from the tape that you didn't)

1. What's wrong with Dolphins outside linebacker Cameron Wake? He isn't playing at the same high level he played at last season. Wake has two sacks, but against the Browns the other day he was handled several times in one-on-one situations by two tackles who aren't exactly top notch. Oneil Cousins and Artis Hicks, filling in for starter Tony Pashos, both spent time handling Wake. Wake got sealed easily by tight end Alex Smith on a run play and got lost in coverage on a key fourth-down play on the winning drive. Wake is still a good player. But he certainly isn't playing like he did last season when he had 14 sacks.

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2. Calais Campbell is off to a good start in 2011. The Cardinals expected big things from Calais Campbell last season and he was a major disappointment. Not so this season -- so far. He had two sacks against the Seahawks Sunday and abused Paul McQuistan, a reserve starting at left guard.

3. Does anybody remember the uproar in Houston when the Texans didn't re-sign Vontae Leach? At the time, there were angry fans in Houston. What did I say? He's just a fullback. Well, the Texans made the right move to let him go and play James Casey. He is much more versatile as we saw against the Saints last week. He can line up in the backfield as a conventional fullback. He can line up as a tight end. He even carried once in a one-back set. Casey is much more of a fit in their offense than the one-dimensional Leach. Against the Saints, Casey had five catches for 126 yards and a touchdown, one carry for 11 yards and some nice blocks in the run game as a lead blocker. Do they really miss Leach? Didn't think so.

4. The Denver Broncos thought Jarvis Moss could be a pass-rush star when they took him in the first round out of Florida in 2007. He had 3 1/2 sacks in four seasons and was released. The Broncos would be sick watching the Raiders-Jets tape. Jarvis Moss had two sacks last week and had several other pressures. He looked fast, tough, and played well against the run. Moss played five games with the Raiders last season and had a sack. Maybe the black-and-silver fits his style.

5. Why can't the Jets run the ball? Take a look inside at center Colin Baxter and left guard Matt Slauson. Baxter, who is starting for the injured Nick Mangold, was blown up in several plays in the Raiders game. He's an undrafted rookie, so that shouldn't be a shock. But Slauson, who is in his second season as a starter, also struggled. The Jets are 25th in rushing yards per game. Take a look inside and you will see the reason.

6. One of the more impressive young units is the Bengals defensive front. They were dominant against the 49ers. Some of the standouts were defensive tackles Geno Atkins and Domata Peko and defensive ends Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson and Frostee Rucker. Atkins, a second-year player, was especially impressive. This group could present some big problems for the Bills offensive line this week.

7. When the Jacksonville Jaguars signed Clint Session to a big contract in free agency, some of their staff raved about his toughness. So why isn't he on the field? Clint Session, who came over from the Colts, has played roughly 40 percent of the snaps so far as he comes out in the nickel defense. This is a team that spent a lot of money for a guy who isn't on the field half of the time. "He will bring a violence to our defense," one Jaguars coach told me this summer. So where is it? If he doesn't stay on the field, the Jaguars spent too much money for a part-time player. Session had two tackles against the Panthers in his limited time last week. I know nickel corner Drew Coleman was also added as a free agent, but with the way the game is played the Jaguars might have made a monetary mistake signing Session as well.

8. Jared Allen had three sacks against the Lions, but the other end, Brian Robison, is playing some really good football opposite him. Brian Robison had two sacks and three pressures. He whipped Lions right tackle Gosder Cherilus, which led to his being benched. When the Vikings opted to let Ray Edwards leave via free agency, they did so in part because Robison was ready to start.

9. One of the more impressive young players so far this season has been Colts linebacker Pat Angerer. He opened the season outside, but when Gary Brackett missed the past two weeks, he moved to middle linebacker and has starred. He had 20 tackles against the Steelers on Sunday night. Brackett is now out for the season, so Angerer, a second-year player, will start in the middle the rest of the way. He is an aggressive tackler who has good instincts to get to the football. His read-and-reaction skills are impressive for a young player.

10. I hate to pump up the same guy in two of the first three weeks, but 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald deserves it. After being dominant the first week of the season, he came back against the Bengals with another good game last week. He dominated the right side of the Bengals line, including former first-round pick Andre Smith.

Hot Tub (Five guys playing well)

  Raiders DT Tommy Kelly: He has been impressive early this season playing next to Richard Seymour. The Raiders have a nice 1-2 inside combination.

  Eagles DE Trent Cole: Is there a more underappreciated player than Cole in the NFL? He has been dominant the past two weeks.

  Bills S Jairus Byrd: After a sensational rookie season, his play tailed off in 2010. Now he's back to being a playmaker. He had 12 tackles and two passes defensed against the Pats.

  Steelers CB Ike Taylor: In three games, he has done a nice job on three good receivers. It helped against Reggie Wayne that the Colts quarterbacks weren't named Manning.

  Browns CB Joe Haden: He did a nice job in man coverage on Brandon Marshall last week. Haden looks like he's ready to make his first Pro Bowl.

Cold Tub

  Cowboys LT Doug Free: Did he cash in and check out? He doesn't even look like the same player from a year ago.

  Chargers QB Philip Rivers: He just hasn't looked like the Rivers of the past three seasons. He is just off a bit.

  Patriots S Josh Barrett: The Patriots opted to go with this young player at safety, but he's having some growing pains.

  Lions LT Jeff Backus: Jared Allen made him look old and slow. The Lions insist Backus is fine. I think he's a worry spot.

  Falcons LT Sam Baker: Adrian Clayborn had a nice game against him a week after Cole abused him. Is he a bust?

Assistant coach who won't sleep this week

Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is one of the best in football. But he has to find a way to slow down the Buffalo passing game. Zimmer's secondary, which has done a nice job so far, has to be able to slow down Stevie Johnson and his receiver mates. The key will be the different pressure looks Zimmer throws at the Bills line.

Three and outs

MVP Watch Short list

1. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills: Hey, look at the numbers. And his team is 3-0.

2. Matthew Stafford, Lions: See Fitzpatrick, only his team has more talent.

3. Aaron Rodgers, Packers: He'll probably end up winning it, but for now he remains behind just by a tad.

Three things annoying me this week

1. All the talk about faking injuries. It's gone on for years. Vintage over-hype, like having the kickoff moved back 5 yards.

2. Renovated stadiums that keep the visiting locker room the size of your kitchen. That's you, Soldier Field.

3. Fans who get on teams for drafting players from small schools. One name: Jerry Rice.

Tweets at me

1. @PriscoCBS U don't come off as a very positive person">

2. @PriscoCBS Cowboys wins haven't been pretty but good to see someone rank them above 15 your power rankings are earned not given #respectthat

3. @PriscoCBS has the #Lions at number 2 in his power ranking. Even though a lions fan, this is too high. Lets see after #Dallas this week.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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