If you ask Chris Carr about Titans running back Chris Johnson, the veteran cornerback will tell you a story about how Johnson once claimed to have run a 4.3 40-yard dash ... with a weighted vest on.
Carr believed him. That's how fast Johnson is.
Whether you think Johnson is the fastest guy in the league, as Carr does, or just somewhere in the top-five, there's no doubting that the fourth-year running back is as explosive a playmaker as you'll find in the NFL.
He has the ability to plant a foot in the ground, burst past an oncoming defender, and then explode away from him. He can get to the corner faster than probably any other running back in the league, putting pressure on defenses to set the edge and defensive backs to get involved in the running game. He can turn a simple three-yard gain into six points by getting through initial contact and then using his sprinter speed to get past everyone else on the field.
So, what's the best way for an offense to slow down a back like Johnson that can change the game any time he touches the ball?
"I've said it before and I'll say it again - farm your own land," defensive end Cory Redding said. "Do your homework first. Stay in your gap. That's the only way you're going to beat Chris Johnson, is if you don't give him windows to run in. If everybody, all 11 men, stay in their gaps, do what they're supposed to do, we'll have a successful day on him. But if you're going to peak and hold up and say, 'I think he went there' and get out of your leverage, as a great back, he's going to find the hole and hit his head on the goalposts.
"As long as we don't allow that, we're going to be fine. He's going to make his plays. He's a pro. But other than that, we've got to weather the storm and know that if we continue to do what we're doing and fight for one another, we're going to have a good day."
Last week, in the Titans' season opener, Johnson looked far from the dominant running back that we've all grown accustomed to seeing in Tennessee's backfield. The East Carolina product, who topped 2,000 yards rushing back in the 2009 season, had just 24 rushing yards on nine carries in a loss to the Jaguars. That was good for just 2.7 yards per carry, nearly half of Johnson's career average of 4.9 yards per rush.
Part of Johnson's decreased workload and subpar results can be attributed to his lengthy holdout during training camp. Johnson didn't report to Titans camp until after signing his new contract in early-September, leaving him without much of a chance to get in full football shape before the start of the season.
"I know that we were just easing him into it last week," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "There are some things working against us there. But, I think my hope, and I think everybody's hope, is that we can hit the ground running and keep improving - keep working on things. Obviously, he's going to be a big part of our offense this season. The sooner we can do that the better."
Another reason for Johnson's limited role last week was that the Titans fell behind 13-0 to the Jags and needed to play catch-up. They opted to do so primarily through the air, leaving Johnson without much of a chance to establish the ground game. That's certainly something the Ravens will hope to replicate this week - get out on top early, and make Tennessee lean on their passing game to get back into it.
You better believe Tennessee will counter that, however, and will make every effort to get Johnson his full allotment of carries this week.
"The plan was, and I'm sure that the Ravens look at it that way, that he is one of the guys on our side of the ball that they have to not allow to make big plays," Titans head coach Mike Munchak said. "We will do our best to put him in a position to make them for us. To us, we'd like to see him get to 20 carries or 20 touches, maybe mix the pass game in with the run game."
While Hasselbeck has the veteran experience to burn a defense, and wide receiver Kenny Britt is a tough matchup for any secondary to deal with, the Ravens know what their main goal will be. If they can keep Johnson in check, they have a very good chance to leave Tennessee with a 2-0 record.
"He is what they call their home run hitter," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "He is their offense, he's their heartbeat. And if you look at what they did last weekend, I think he just had nine carries, so you've got to know that he's definitely going to touch the football a lot this week. And we're prepared for it, we're prepared for it. It should be a great test for us. But when you talk about just skill and talent, he is a special, special talent."