Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
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METAIRIE, La. ― The last time the Saints allowed a 100-yard running back, they were embarrassed in the Gateway City, giving up 159 yards to Steven Jackson in a 31-21 loss to the Rams.
Since then, New Orleans is 4-0, holding three of four opponents, let alone one player, to fewer than 100 yards.
But they Saints (9-3) are about to face their toughest test of the season in regard to stopping the run.
The Tennessee Titans (7-5), Sunday’s opponent, boasts one of the NFL’s best, if not the best, running backs in Chris Johnson.
After starting the season below the standard he has set for himself, Johnson is back on track since the calendar read Nov. 13.
“He’s got his mojo back,” Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “He has come on the last three weeks and he has looked like the Chris Johnson we’ve grown to know. You’ve got to know that that was going to come at some point during the season.
“With everything that happened early in the season, I think it just took awhile for him to get right. But nothing is wrong with him now.”
What happened early in the season is that Johnson held out of training camp for a long-term contract worth the world in cash.
The Titans ponied up late, but Johnson didn’t exactly reward them.
He rushed for 24 yards, then 53, and then 21 yards in his first three games.
But against Carolina, he broke out, compiling 130 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. Since then, he has gone for 13 yards against Atlanta in a loss, 190 yards against Tampa Bay in a win and 153 yards and two scores against Buffalo in a win.
“He’s fire hot right now and we all know he’s a really good athlete,” Saints linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. “He’s a fast guy. Very elusive. Good with his feet. Quick feet. Good vision. He definitely poses a threat.”
The Saints have never played Johnson.
Yet, they know what they’re in for – a shifty running back that can take a two-yard gain and turn into an 80-yard touchdown.
Full pursuit will be key, as will technically-proficient tackling. One wrong step, though, and Jenkins knows what will happen.
“It’s almost a fine line because you have to have disciplined pursuit,” Jenkins said. “You can’t have everybody overrunning the ball because if he cuts back and there’s nobody home, you might as well kiss him good-bye.”