By Simon Evans
(Reuters) - Eyebrows were raised this week when Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson broke from the usual upbeat script ahead of Thursday's game with the Pittsburgh Steelers, admitting his 1-4 team were not good.
It is hard to argue with him, however, given the Titans' struggles through the opening five weeks of the 2012 National Football League (NFL) season.
The Titans' four defeats have come in convincing fashion, each by at least 20 points, starting quarterback Jake Locker is injured and they have struggled to establish a running game that was once the envy of the NFL.
Johnson has not even been close to the level he showed as a Pro Bowl selection for three straight years from his rookie year in 2008. In Sunday's 30-7 loss to Minnesota, the 27-year-old running back averaged just 1.6 yards a carry on 15 attempts.
"You look at the games and how we're playing, we don't look like a good team. I wouldn't sit here and say we're close," Johnson was quoted by TitansInsider.com.
"We need somebody in this locker room to make plays and give us a spark. I feel like I've made some plays, but the situation of a spark has got to come from somewhere and getting a spark that can be big for this team."
Veteran Matt Hasselbeck will again start at quarterback against the Steelers and will need Johnson and company to help out by getting the running game going, no easy task against a Steelers team that is one of the best against the rush.
The Steelers are 2-2 after a late field goal gave them victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is not buying the line that the Titans are among the worst teams in the league.
"They're still a great defense. I don't think their record speaks to what they are on defense and how good they are as a team," said Roethlisberger.
The Titans have had a tough schedule - they have lost to the New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers, Houston Texans and the Vikings while their one win was a 44-41 stunner against the Detroit Lions.
"They've played some good teams. To me, it's any given Sunday. I don't care what your record is, who you're playing, or where you're playing, anybody can win, anybody can be good, and anybody can be bad," said Roethlisberger.
"We have to approach this on a short week like it's the best opponent and we need to play our best no matter what."
The glimmer of hope for the Titans comes from the injuries that Pittsburgh's defense are dealing with.
Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu is out after aggravating a calf strain against the Eagles while linebacker LaMarr Woodley has a hamstring strain but could play.
(Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue)