The Tennessee Titans believe they can run their way to both a winning record and the franchise's first playoff berth since 2008.
The Titans put together their best performance on the ground this season beating the St. Louis Rams 28-21 to snap a three-game skid. Chris Johnson ran for a season-high 150 yards and his first two touchdowns. Shonn Greene ran for a TD, and even Jake Locker scrambled for a TD as the Titans ran for a season-high 198 yards.
"That's our formula to win," coach Mike Munchak said Monday.
The Titans improved to 4-4 with their best rushing performance since Nov. 27, 2011, when they ran for 202 yards against Tampa Bay, and they hadn't rushed for four touchdowns since Oct. 21, 2012, when they beat Buffalo. The Titans improved to 8-1 when Johnson runs for at least 150 yards and 23-10 when he has at least 20 carries.
Tennessee signed Greene to a three-year contract and bulked up the offensive line this offseason with Munchak determined to run the ball better after ranking 21st in rushing offense last season. But Greene hurt his right knee in the opener and finally is back to full strength. He ran nine times for 38 yards himself and his first TD in Tennessee.
Johnson had his best game since running for 195 yards in Buffalo last season with his first two TDs rushing this season.
Munchak said the performance against the Rams is what they thought they'd do going into the season, and they like how running well with Johnson and Greene helps open up the offense because that means the Titans also are controlling the line of scrimmage.
"The running game really is what made it happen, and it's been a while since we've been able to do that," Munchak said. "So it was good to see that phase of the game do so well."
Give a little credit to Johnson as well.
The six-year veteran went to Munchak last week, telling the coach he wanted running backs and offensive linemen to meet together after practice Thursday. It's a session the Titans regularly held when Kevin Mawae was the team's center, and Johnson ran for 2,006 yards in Mawae's last season in 2009.
They watched film and shared their thoughts on what each person saw. That left Johnson and Greene better able to anticipate how the linemen and tight ends would block in particular situations, while they also knew how the running backs would react as well.
Johnson said Monday they'll continue meeting each Thursday from now on because a strong run game is the Titans' formula for success.
"If they want to put all those guys in the box, we got guys like Kendall (Wright) and Nate Washington who will make plays out there that'll help us out," Johnson said.
Aside from the extra communication, right guard Andy Levitre credited just the sheer number of carries helping make the linemen more comfortable. The Titans ran the ball 35 times against St. Louis, the most since they ran 42 times in a season-opening win in Pittsburgh.
"Having that be a big part of the game, you really start fitting blocks better ...," Levitre said. "You keep it going, and you keep moving the chains."
The result gave the Titans their first win since Sept. 29, and now they host winless Jacksonville on Sunday with the chance to build some momentum. The Jaguars (0-8) will be the first of two AFC South opponents visiting Nashville with the division-leading Colts next on Nov. 14.
"You win the next one, then the next one becomes an even bigger game," Munchak said. We know we have to make our move. Yesterday was part of that. Now it's Jacksonville."
Notes: Munchak said S Michael Griffin (right quadriceps) should be able to play against the Jaguars along with RT David Stewart (shoulder) after sitting out against the Rams. LB Moise Fokou (left knee) hopes to play but has to return to practice first.
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