Derrick Henry’s absence could benefit Tennessee Titans in long run

Tennessee Titans (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Tennessee Titans (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

The Tennessee Titans have a major challenge on their hands for the second half of the 2021 season, if nothing else.

After the Titans’ star running back Derrick Henry went down with a significant foot injury, the team is without the focal point of their offense. Some people have serious doubts about Ryan Tannehill‘s ability to succeed without him.

The good news for Titans fans is that it is not the worst-case scenario for them. Henry is projected to be able to come back for the playoffs, and with the team has a firm hold on the AFC South. Looking ahead, the Tennessee Titans have a soft schedule ahead of them, so if they had to “rest” Henry, this is a good time.

In the meantime, it is “next man up”, and no, not even Adrian Peterson on his retirement tour will come close to replicating Henry’s production and value to the Titans’ offense. But they can find a way to succeed even without their MVP-caliber running back.

Tennessee Titans might make a small but important change on offense.

One of the staples of the Titans’ offense is establishing the run, a concept that has gone stale in the modern game.  If there is any good news from Henry’s injury, is that they might not be able to do that anymore.

Even though Adrian Peterson can be very effective on a snap count in Tennessee, the 36-year-old running back can’t take the beating that Henry has been taking the past few years. That might force the Tennessee Titans to use the passing game more.

That is something this team should consider anyway because over the last two weeks Henry ran the ball 57 times for 154 yards. No disrespect to a future Hall of Famer, but his performance against the Colts (28 rushes for 68 yards) isn’t much different than what happened against the Kansas City Chiefs when he was healthy (29 rushes for 86 yards).

What is that really doing to benefit the Titans?

At this point, opposing teams know that the Titans are going to run the ball and that they are going to do it a lot. Even Henry (as great as he is) is not in a position to succeed when defenses are expecting him.

Todd Downing has a more varied passing offense than Arthur Smith did over the last two years and it the Tennessee Titans may lean more on that going forward. This could end up helping the running game because a more respected passing game means lighter boxes for Adrian Peterson and the other Titans’ running backs.

That new respect for the passing game could have a huge impact in the playoffs if opposing defenses make Derrick Henry and Adrian Peterson prove that they can be more dangerous than the passing offense.

Have you seen how well that has worked with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt? The Titans could still run the ball 30 times a game and keep Henry somewhat fresh.

If a fully healthy offense comes back — and yes, that is a very big if — they could be the deadly unit they were hyped up to be if the next few months make them realize that they cannot just give Henry the ball nearly 30 times a game and expect him not to wear down. And yes, that is another very big if, but sometimes you cannot learn a lesson unless you learn it the hard way, and playing without him for the first time ever could teach the Titans a very valuable lesson the hard way.

The Tennessee Titans have an uncanny way of struggling in games that they should dominate and winning games where people count them out. Right now, everyone is writing the Titans off due to losing the centerpiece of their entire team, but for some reason, this is where they might start to turn some heads.

Think of this team’s most impressive wins recently. Going into Baltimore as a heavy underdog in the playoffs and winning the game in dominant fashion. Coming off of a 2-week COVID hiatus and thrashing the undefeated Bills. Hosting the Bills again after weeks of injury and underperforming and defeating them in a thriller.

Time and time again it seems like the Tennessee Titans lean on Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry in crunch time to win the game, and they come through in the clutch. None of this is an accident, as much as they have a tendency to create their own adversity, they usually find a way to overcome it.

Their next matchup is a perfect chance to make such a statement, as they play on the road against a clear Super Bowl contender in the Rams. No, you should not expect them to win, but if there is any game in which you should decisively write the Titans off, it is this one, and this seems to be a situation in which they thrive.

The loss of Henry is going to force the Titans to play with as much toughness as they have ever played with, and that extra effort could make a huge difference.