ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Chris Johnson's pedestrian production has led Tennessee Titans fans — and fantasy football owners — to wonder where the running back has disappeared to these first six weeks of the season.
No need to include the Buffalo Bills in that conversation.
"Have you watched him on film?" defensive tackle Kyle Williams asked incredulously. "I don't see much wrong with the way he's running the football. He might not be getting all the yards, but the guy, he still looks the same."
That's worry enough for the Bills (3-3), who will host Johnson and the Titans (2-4) today.
Johnson has run roughshod over Buffalo in two previous games, having combined for 389 yards from scrimmage (285 rushing, 104 receiving) and four touchdowns.
Another concern is how Buffalo's high-priced, revamped defense has allowed a league-worst 1,041 yards rushing, having trouble stopping most anyone, from 49ers veteran Frank Gore (106 yards rushing) to Patriots rookie Brandon Bolden (137 yards and a score).
Johnson is fully aware of the Bills' porous numbers, which have led him to believe there could be plenty of room to roam in Buffalo.
"I'm seeing a lot of possibilities," Johnson said. "Yeah of course they open my eyes. I think they're [No.] 32 versus the run. We're not that good in the rushing game, so it's a situation where I know we can be better when we execute. I think it's a great opportunity for us."
Following an inconsistent start to the season, the Titans are seeking to build momentum after a morale-boosting 26-23 win over Pittsburgh on Oct. 11.
With top quarterback Jake Locker to miss his third straight game with a shoulder injury, and the Titans outscored 106-31 in three consecutive road losses, the key for them is getting Johnson on track.
Three seasons since becoming the NFL's sixth player to rush for 2,000 yards in one year, Johnson has spent much of 2012 stuck in neutral. He's 23rd in the NFL with 301 yards rushing, 35th averaging 3.3 yards per carry (minimum 40 rushes), and has yet to find the end zone.
"We definitely need to get him going," Titans coach Mike Munchak said. "He has to be a big part of the next 10 weeks. We're 2-4 and we've got a lot of work ahead of us if we're going to get back in this thing. And we need our running back."
The Bills don't need to be reminded how big a threat Johnson presents, slump or no slump.
"Every time he touches the ball, he scares you," coach Chan Gailey said. "Yes, he hasn't made as many yards and the statistics are down, but I'm telling you, defensive coaches hold their breath every time he touches it."
Gailey and the Bills can at least exhale for a moment in what's already been an up-and-down season. They're coming off a 19-16 overtime win at Arizona that temporarily silenced growing concerns and criticism that followed two blowout losses, in which Buffalo allowed 1,201 yards and was outscored 97-31.
The defense finally showed up, limiting the Cardinals to 332 yards and getting five sacks. Safety Jairus Byrd was the AFC defensive player of the week after making two interceptions, the second of which set up Rian Lindell's decisive field goal.
The challenge now is to build on that performance, and that means containing Johnson.
"I feel like every back is really good, but you only have one Chris Johnson, and it's definitely going to be a test to keep this guy under wraps," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "But I think we have the capabilities and the potential to do it. So we've just got to do it."
Suddenly, the outlook doesn't look so bad for a team that finds itself in the midst of an AFC East that features all four teams at .500.
"We're 3-3. That's not where we wanted to be, but the three games that we lost have felt like we're a much worse team," quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "All of a sudden, you start looking at it as we've got 10 games left to go, and we've got a real shot at this thing."
The Bills aren't alone in having that belief, given the AFC standings feature only two teams with winning records.
The Titans, despite their record, also see glimmers of hope.
"The fact that we can get a run going for ourselves, and all of a sudden we're right in the mix," Munchak said. "We can make up for some bad football played in the first part of the season."
Johnson can appreciate what's on the line.
"If we don't start winning now, easily we know we won't make the playoffs this year," Johnson said. "It's a situation where we've got to get on a win streak."