NASHVILLE, Tenn. - On paper, the Tennessee run game is as productive as ever - if you measure yards and not touchdowns or wins.
Running the ball always has been a big focus under coach Jeff Fisher, and he thinks getting back to doing it well can work the kinks out for his entire offense.
One thing is for sure. With the Titans stuck at 0-5, it couldn't hurt.
Tennessee ranks eighth in the NFL, averaging 127.6 yards per game, with Chris Johnson third in the NFL with 468 yards rushing. But he has two of just four touchdowns rushing for the Titans and has not scored since Week 2 when both touchdowns came in a loss to Houston when he broke off runs of 91 and 57 yards.
A year ago, LenDale White tied for first in the AFC, third in the NFL, by running for 15 touchdowns. This season, he has just one, and the other TD is courtesy of Kerry Collins, a quarterback not known for his legs.
"I think as a team we need to run the football better,'' Fisher said. "C.J.'s a very good player, and C.J.'s not the reason that we're not doing what we need to do up front.''
Of the NFL teams ranked in the top 10 for yards rushing, only two teams have run for fewer touchdowns than Tennessee. A mere three TDs rushing haven't hurt undefeated Denver (5-0), though Buffalo (1-4) has been shut out.
There's a variety of reasons for the struggle.
The Titans, who have fallen behind early in the last two games, aren't running as much as they did in 2008 while going 13-3. They had only five games in which they didn't run at least 30 times, a number they've reached exactly once in Sept. 27's loss at the New York Jets.
"In the past games, we were running the ball well, but we had to go to the passing game because we fell behind,'' Johnson said.
"When we had the opportunity to get seven, we were getting three instead. So that was making us fall behind. If we can get seven points and stay even, stay close or stay ahead in the game, we'll just continue to run the ball. If we can do that, we can win.''
Defenses are paying close attention to Johnson as well. New England coach Bill Belichick, whose Patriots (3-2) host Tennessee on Sunday, said the Titans create two or three holes per play for running backs to attack a defense. He thought they did it very well against Pittsburgh in the opener and against Houston, but defenses can't allow Johnson any space at all.
"He's averaging 6 yards a carry. He's a terrific back. He's got speed. He's got quickness. He makes people miss. He breaks a lot of tackles. He's as good a back as I've seen in a long time,'' Belichick said.
Then there's been a rash of mistakes along with penalties. Tennessee was flagged nine times for 89 yards in last week's 31-9 loss to Indianapolis, mistakes unexpected for a team with 10 of 20 returning starters on offense. The line features two All Pros in 2008 in left tackle Michael Roos and center Kevin Mawae. The only change? Nate Washington at receiver.
"Everybody's taken their turns. No one's making mistakes on purpose,'' Fisher said.
"We had a couple of holds (Sunday), unique situations that I could see being called once in a while, we're blocking people that are running past the hole. We had a false start by a veteran and also had a drop on the first third-down by a rookie. Everybody's taking turns making mistakes.''
Johnson had nine carries for only 34 yards against the Colts, a game in which Tennessee had a season-low 245 yards offense. The Titans haven't lead in a game since the third quarter against New York on Sept. 27 - a span that has reached nine quarters now. They also haven't scored in the first quarter since Sept. 20 against Houston.
"It's something we're aware of,'' Collins said.