- The Washington Times - Friday, January 9, 2009

OWINGS MILLS, MD. | Tennessee’s Chris Johnson and LenDale White are the AFC’s top rushing duo, but the Baltimore Ravens have played 36 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. In fact, only two teams ran for 100 yards against Baltimore’s third-ranked rushing defense this season.

So excuse Ravens cornerback Samari Rolle for downplaying half of the Titans’ tandem in Saturday’s divisional playoff matchup.

“Chris Johnson is special,” Rolle said. “He’s very fast. We just got to keep him boxed in, try to keep his explosiveness contained. As far as LenDale, [he’s] just a running back. I’ll take this defense any day.”

That’s easy for Rolle to say since he didn’t play in Tennessee’s 13-10 victory in Baltimore in Week 5, when the Ravens held Johnson to 44 yards on 18 carries and White to 4 yards on three carries. However, Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan described the White-Johnson tandem as “the two-headed monster… Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside.” And Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis said his defense will have its hands full with the two backs Saturday in Nashville, Tenn.

The Ravens’ task should be easier since Tennessee’s seven-time Pro Bowl center, Kevin Mawae, is sidelined with an injured right elbow. Until Mawae sat out the regular-season finale at Indianapolis on Dec. 28, the line remained intact all year as the Titans finished third in the AFC in rushing. Tennessee ranked 12th in the conference in passing.

“Traditionally, coach [Jeff] Fisher’s teams are running teams, and I think that’s our identity here,” White said.

Johnson, a rookie who has earned a spot in the Pro Bowl, has given the Titans a new identity with his ability to run 40 yards in 4.24 seconds. Five of his nine touchdowns covered at least 16 yards, and he had three runs of longer than 50 yards.

“C.J. is very smart with great acceleration,” Fisher said. “You give him the football in the right place at the right time, and he can go the distance.”

After he starred at East Carolina, Tennessee drafted Johnson 24th overall in April. His 1,228 rushing yards outgained three of the four backs selected before him - Oakland’s Darren McFadden, Dallas’ Felix Jones and Pittsburgh’s Rashard Mendenhall - combined by more than 400 yards. Johnson topped the fourth, Carolina’s Jonathan Stewart, by nearly 400. Only Chicago’s Matt Forte (1,238) had more rushing yards among rookie backs than Johnson - and Forte had 65 more carries.

White, who became the backup after a breakout 2007, scored 15 touchdowns while carrying 200 times for 773 yards. The third-year man didn’t complain about becoming the No. 2 option, perhaps because he’s used to that role after playing second banana to Reggie Bush at Southern Cal and to Travis Henry as a rookie in 2006.

“Chris Johnson and I are competitors,” White said. “When I see him go out there and make a long run, it makes me want to go out there and do the same thing. It’s one of those things where you think, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’”

That the Titans and Ravens are among the NFL’s quarterfinalists while using multiple backs is no coincidence. Of the five teams that had at least two backs with 160 carries, four are still playing (Carolina and the New York Giants are the others). Those four teams all finished in the top seven in rushing.

Coming off a first-round bye, Johnson (inactive in the finale) and White (who had just seven carries) are rested for their rematch with the Ravens.

“This is going to show a lot of people how good I really am and that I’m just not a fluke… not something that happened in the regular season,” Johnson said.

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