Editor’s note: This is the second part in a series that spotlights three Titans-Raiders matchups to watch Sunday, 1:05 p.m., at Oakland Coliseum
[MATCHUP NO. 3: Michael Griffin vs. Mychal Rivera]
Titans RB Chris Johnson vs. Raiders LB Kevin Burnett
Tale of the tape:
Johnson (28) 5-foot-11, 203 pounds, sixth season, East Carolina
Burnett (94): 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, ninth season, Tennessee
Run defense is a team effort. Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver never misses a chance to tell you that. The defensive line must occupy blockers, close lanes and funnel rushers into areas were linebackers and safeties make tackles.
The Raiders are thankful to have Kevin Burnett as part of the cleanup crew. The veteran linebacker simply doesn’t miss, and has been the team’s best tackler and all-around run defender.
“Kevin’s here because he’s very smart and he thinks through things,” defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said. “When he trusts his technique, he can make all the plays. He’s made most of them and there are a few little ones where, if he just trusts himself a little more, he’s going to make those even quicker. We’re definitely pleased he’s here and he has gotten better in the scheme every week.”
Burnett has been stellar this season. He leads the Raiders with 80 tackles. He has two sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He’s always around the ball and wraps opponents up well.
That’ll be important against Titans running back Chris Johnson, once the NFL’s most feared rusher. Miss a tackle, take a poor angle, and poof! He was gone.
That potential remains, but it hasn’t happened as much this season. Johnson has struggled fighting through tackles and finding open space. He’s averaging a career-worst 3.8 yards per carry and 1.9 yards after initial contact, dismal numbers all around.
Johnson is not Rashad Jennings. Breaking tackles is not his game. He’s a speed rusher who runs exceptionally well in space. His numbers are down, but the Raiders don’t see a physical reason why.
“If he’s lost a step, I haven’t seen it. He’s still very explosive,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said. “You’ve got to do a great job of trying to get him off his track and not let him hit things downhill and get to the second level of the defense without having to stop and restart.”
That’s where Burnett and fellow linebackers Nick Roach and Sio Moore come in. They have to prevent Johnson from accelerating through a hole and matching up favorably with a defensive back in space.
“That’s when he’s the most effective -- when he can get to the second level of the defense without having to change his track. He’s still a very explosive runner,” Allen said. “When you watch his tape, there are a lot of explosive runs, and we’ve got to do a great job of getting 11 hats around the ball on him and do a great job of not only setting the edge and bounce the ball to the outside, but do a great job on the backside of our defense in pursuit because he’s a cutback runner.”