Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry started off slow this season, but is now looking ready to make a second-half surge in consecutive seasons.
Derrick Henry came into 2019 with high expectations and a heavy burden to carry.
After wrapping up the final four games of the 2018 season with seven touchdowns and 585 yards on the ground, it looked as though Henry had finally reached his elite potential.
Whether fair or not, Henry had set a standard for himself with those last four games in 2018. And with uneven quarterback play from Marcus Mariota the previous two seasons, establishing a strong ground attack with a franchise-caliber running back seemed like Tennessee’s best blueprint for success on offense.
While Henry played well in the early parts of 2019, he wasn’t as effective on the ground as many fans hoped, and the offense as a whole struggled through the first six weeks. The fourth-year running back had eclipsed over four yards per rush only twice in that time, while totaling just one game with over 100 yards on the ground.
Since the six-week mark, Henry has completely transformed his game and is coming off back-to-back weeks with over 100 rushing yards on over eight yards per carry. In those two games against Kansas City and Jacksonville, Henry combined to rush for 347 yards and four touchdowns on 42 total carries.
Neither the Chiefs nor the Jaguars feature a strong run defense, and are ranked 30th and 29th in rushing yards allowed per game, respectively. But it’s hard not to be impressed with what Henry has been able to accomplish in recent weeks.
In Weeks 10 and 12, Tennessee’s last two games, Henry was the leading rusher across all of the NFL. The closest any running back got to matching one of Henry’s last two performances was Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny, who was still out-gained by Henry by 30 yards on just five more carries.
What’s impressive about Henry’s recent success is that it hasn’t been contained to those previous two games. His numbers haven’t been as eye-popping as the dominant games against Kansas City and Jacksonville, but Henry has been playing great football since Tennessee’s Week 7 game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
In that Chargers game, Henry carried the ball 22 times for 90 yards and a touchdown, giving the running back his third game over four yards per carry on the season. Since then, he’s averaged over that four yards per carry mark in each of his games, improving that YPC mark to put him in the top 10 among all running backs.
Derrick Henry’s individual success has come in tandem with an offense that looks revitalized and explosive for the first time all season. With the 42-20 win over Jacksonville, Tennessee has scored over 30 points in back to back games for the first time since Weeks 2 and 3 of 2017.
With four total touchdowns and over 350 all-purpose yards, Derrick Henry has been responsible for much of the teams’ recent offensive success as a whole.
After having the 20th-ranked rushing offense through the first six weeks of the year, the Titans now sit at 11th overall, averaging 122.8 rushing yards per game. And over the last three weeks, Tennessee ranks behind only the Baltimore Ravens in running yards per game with 188.3.
It was a sluggish start to the season for the Titans offense, but the unit is starting to become what many fans envisioned it would at the start of the year.
Of course, Henry’s success, as well as the success of the offense at large, has a good deal to do with the switch to Ryan Tannehill at quarterback.
Since taking over the Titans offense, Tannehill has completed 72 percent of his passes for a 111.4 passer rating on 9.2 yards per attempt, all of which are top three stats among qualified passers. Tannehill has been thriving in the Tennessee offense, which has forced defenses to stack the box against Henry less, allowing him more room to work and more opportunities to shine.
Even with Tannehill’s gaudy numbers, there is no mistaking that the Titans have been Derrick Henry’s team. Henry is averaging just under 19 carries per game and is seventh in the NFL in rush attempts. What he’s been doing with those carries in recent weeks has proven him to be one of the most efficient and explosive running backs in the NFL.
Henry is now just nine yards away from another 1,000-yard rushing season, two touchdowns away from tying his season-high of 12, and has done so with five games remaining in the regular season.
Henry is hitting his stride at the perfect time, and is taking the rest of the Titans offense along with him. Coming off two straight dominant games on the ground, it doesn’t look like Henry will be slowing down any time soon. The Titans have finally found their identity on offense and are all of a sudden one of the hottest teams in the NFL.
The driving force behind it all? Derrick Henry.