The Dolphins will face this Sunday a Tennessee team coming off an embarrassing 51-20 loss. But the Titans did accomplish something in that otherwise forgettable outing.
When Chris Johnson rushed for 141 yards, he snapped Chicago’s streak of 18 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. That was the second-longest active streak in the league.
Now, Johnson will try to break the longest current streak, which just happens to belong to the Miami Dolphins.
The last running back to gain 100 yards against the Dolphins was Houston’s Ben Tate, who gained 104 yards in Week 2 of the 2011 season. The Dolphins have played 22 games since and the closest anyone has come to triple digits was Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller, who gained 91 yards on only 12 carries last December at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
During the streak, the Dolphins have contained — and often shut down — a long list of quality running backs, among them Fred Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster and Darren McFadden.
None of them, however, possess the kind of explosiveness that can get Johnson to 100 yards with only a handful of rushing attempts.
The Chicago game last Sunday was a perfect example. Johnson had only 54 yards on 14 carries when he took a handoff with 10:20 left in the fourth quarter. Eighty yards later, Johnson had a touchdown and 134 yards on the day.
It was the fifth time in his career Johnson had scored on a run of 80 yards or more, and the second time this season. He went 83 yards for a touchdown in a 35-34 victory at Buffalo in Week 7.
Clearly, keeping Johnson from breaking a long run is the biggest task facing the Dolphins defense this week.
This will be the third time the Dolphins will be going up against Johnson, and history suggests the streak is in serious jeopardy.
In his first two games against Miami, Johnson topped 100 yards both times, with 104 yards in Tennessee’s 27-24 overtime victory in 2009 and 117 yards in the Dolphins’ 29-17 victory at Miami the following season.
What the Dolphins have done well against Johnson is limit the long-distance runs. Johnson’s longest run in 2009 was only 14 yards, and his long in 2010 was a 30-yard touchdown.
Making the Dolphins’ job tougher is that Johnson now looks a lot more like the back who gained 2,006 yards in 2009 than he did early in the season when he seemed out of sorts and his running was being questioned by TV analysts everywhere.
In the first three weeks of the season, Johnson gained the paltry total of 45 yards in games against New England, San Diego and Detroit and averaged 1.37 yards per carry.
Johnson finally got cranking in Week 4 against, of all teams, the powerful Houston Texans when he rushed for 141 yards and he’s been pretty consistent ever since. Even including a mediocre 24-yard outing against Minnesota, Johnson has averaged 115 rushing yards per game over the last six weeks.
Johnson’s resurgence has been a rare bright spot for the struggling Titans, but the Dolphins figure to focus their defensive efforts on containing him. The focus will be on preventing him from getting into the open field, which makes sure tackling a priority this weekend. Bringing the safeties closer to the line of scrimmage also is a strategy we very well might see.
The Dolphins have done a good job against all types of backs during their streak, and they’ll see several talented runners in the second half of the season — the list includes the speedy Spiller, the physical Marshawn Lynch, Maurice Jones-Drew and Frank Gore.
But when it comes to keeping alive their streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher, they probably won’t face a bigger challenge than what’s coming Sunday.