chris johnson

Beyond the stats: Chris Johnson vs. the Bills/CJ Spiller



Chris Johnson is the newest member of the New York Jets, now that he signed a two year contract on Wednesday afternoon. The running back has disappointed some since his 2,000 yard season in 2009, but he has gained over 1,000 rushing yards in every season of his career. 2013 marked the lowest total yardage total in his six year career (1,422 total yards from scrimmage), so how big of a threat is Johnson now that the Bills have to face him twice each year?

Throughout his career, Johnson has been boom or bust. His high variability is clearly visible when looking at his average yards per touch over his career. The chart below shows how much his five game average yards per touch has fluctuated.

Johnson Variability

Since his 2,000 yard season, Johnson’s productivity per touch has endured wide swings. That’s largely a result of the style of running back he is. CJ Spiller has similar big play ability (better, I’d like to think) and his career has endured swings from great to average.

Spiller, however, has seen a higher peak than Johnson. At one point, Spiller’s five game average reached 8.8 yards per touch. That’s almost a first down every time he touched the ball! The comparison between the two CJ’s is below.

Comparing CJ and CJ2K

The Bills have struggled to contain Johnson in their three meetings. Johnson has averaged 7.16 yards per rush attempt against the Bills and has had almost as many gains of ten yards or more (13) as runs that resulted in no gain or a loss (14). Johnson’s just gashed them for big chunks of yardage, and he’s done it at least four times in every meeting.

Johnson’s best runs occur when he’s able to get outside. He doesn’t necessarily need to get there at the line of scrimmage though (just 25% of his runs came around the ends, according to play by play data). His big cuts to the outside often happen at the second level. Below are the estimated tracks (taken from the All-22 video) Johnson took on his nine big gains against the Bills in their 2011 and 2012 meetings.

CJ vs Bills big plays

Yes, Johnson has declined to the extent that he hasn’t reached the 2,000 yard mark since 2009 (he’s only reached 1,300 yards once since that season). The explosive back gained ten or more yards on 14% of his rush attempts in his first two seasons. That figure has progressively dropped to last season, where he had a big gain on just 8% of his attempts. His success rate (based on the percentage of yards to go gained by down, minimum 40% on first down, 60% on second down, and 100% on third and fourth downs) doesn’t show a player in decline. Johnson’s sixty attempt average success rate throughout his career is depicted below.

Johnsons Success Rate

The Jets’ rushing success rate last season was about 45%. Johnson’s career rate is almost 42%, but he hit his second highest rate in 2013 (43%). The Jets shouldn’t use Johnson in every situation, but he is still a dangerous back. If the Bills can’t contain Johnson and keep him between the numbers (and not just at the line of scrimmage!), he’ll continue to gain huge chunks of yardage. It’s an interesting move by the Jets that will test the Bills’ run defense twice this upcoming season.

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