INDIANAPOLIS –A clear objective for the Colts last Sunday was to stop the rushing attack of the Cleveland Browns.
Coming off a performance at the New York Jets where the Colts allowed 252 yards on the ground, Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians drew the analogy that once opponents see blood in the water they will go for more.
Later he equated the situation to a mud puddle where a kid will stomp all the water out of it before he will move on.
While the Colts did not come out of the Browns game spotless, they did a formidable job in tightening up the run defense. Indianapolis yielded a season-low 55 yards and 3.2 average.
Now it must face Tennessee's Chris Johnson, whose 195-yard rushing game last Sunday at Buffalo marked the third-highest of his career along with being the third-most potent ground day in the league this year.
Indianapolis, a team trying to get its first road win, must be on the mark again in stopping a ground threat.
"Chris has always been a challenge," said linebacker Dwight Freeney, who has seen Johnson over the last four years. "He's a guy I guess with Barry Sanders-type of game-breaking ability. He'll have 10 runs that you stop him and then all of a sudden, all he needs is one, and that one is big. It's going to be important that guys collectively, on each and every play, stop him."
Unless Freeney had statistical material in his sweatpants pocket, he was more on target than he knew. Johnson has 10 scoring runs of 45 yards or longer, including an 83-yarder last Sunday. His total ranks third in history. Sanders (18) ranks first.
Johnson has four 1,000-yard seasons to start his career. His 2,006 yards in 2009 are the fifth-highest total in history. Johnson has two 100-plus efforts this year, and Arians believes Tennessee is finding its rhythm.
"I think it's more his opportunities. I think they're starting to gel," said Arians. "They look like they hit their stride pretty good as far as the running game this past weekend, and he's always a challenge. He's as much a challenge on the checkdown as he is on a stretch play.
"You've got to corral him. You can't let him loose in space because no one is going to catch him. He's always been a speed matchup problem for every team he's ever played."
Indianapolis has allowed Johnson to have two 100-yard outings in seven tries. Last season, the Colts held him to 34 and 55 yards in splitting with the Titans. Four times Indianapolis has held Johnson below 60 yards, but he is a constant threat.
"Chris is another great back in this league," said defensive end Cory Redding. "Granted, he hasn't had the type of year right now he's used to, but this guy is still a dangerous weapon. (He's) super-fast. When he gets his hands on the ball, he can put his foot in the ground and make guys miss. (He's) very elusive. He's just another threat. Another week and we have to face another great back."
Indeed. In six games this year, Indianapolis has faced Chicago's Matt Forte, Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew, who with 177 yards was the only one of the bunch to record a break-out game.
Last week, Cleveland rookie Trent Richardson came in with a rib injury and was held to eight yards on the same number of attempts.
Sundays in the NFL are days for measuring where a team stands, and linebacker Jerrell Freeman, the team's top tackler, knows the team must be on point.
"We've faced good running backs. We have shown we can stop the run," said Freeman. "We have to do it on a consistent basis, week in and week out. Everyone has to know their assignments. Get the job done."
For Redding and a unit that hopes to have the return of some key veteran faces, Johnson represents one part of the Tennessee offense that must be held in check.
"The biggest thing is going down there and finding a way to stop him, containing him for the most part and getting guys around the quarterback," said Redding. "Get him off his spot. As long as we do that, we can be the team we want to be. Until then, we'll struggle.
"I have no doubt in my mind that these men, new or old, or whether they've been here since April or just got here last week, they understand it real quick. It's all about going out there and playing and making plays, being accountable. That's what we're going to strive to do to get this win."
Tennessee has struggled defensively on the scoreboard by allowing 30 or more points six times, including in last week's 35-34 win at Buffalo. Head Coach Mike Munchak said while the type of games the team has had is unusual, the offense and Johnson might be trending back to ways that have seen the explosive player prosper.
"Our season has been kind of strange with getting behind in games like we have. We've kind of abandoned the running game early in the season, in the first four games or so. The last three weeks, three or four weeks, we've run the ball much more," said Munchak. "When you get him more opportunities, he's going to have a chance to do more with the ball. He's obviously had a real good game last week. We thought in the Pittsburgh game he ran well as well, and it's not just him. I think we are blocking better. We are staying in the games and being competitive, and I think that's allowed us to not be so one-dimensional."
On the opening day of the World Series, Redding was asked Wednesday about Johnson in a baseball analogy. He expects Johnson to get on base, but he does not want him to circle the bases.
"He'll get a few singles. He's going to make his plays, but no home runs, (hopefully) a lot of pop-ups. If we get pop-ups, we'll get him out," said Redding. "No home runs, definitely no grand slams."