It was almost an indescribable feeling when the news broke.
Fans of the Tennessee Titans had a permanent smile plastered to their face, as well as a braggadocios hitch in their step whenever they walked around town. Who could blame them? Following eight games in the 2021 season, the Titans held one of the best records in the entire league. Although the team as a whole warranted praise, everyone knew exactly who to point to when asked for the sole reason why Tennessee was playing out of its mind…Derrick Henry.
The all-world running back bashed his way through opposing offensive lines and either stiff-armed the competition straight into the dirt or blew right past them. But, just when it seemed as though Henry’s broad and powerful shoulders would carry them to the finish line, the unthinkable happened as Henry was forced to miss the remainder of the season due to a foot injury.
From there, the Titans were given no choice but to adjust. And, by all accounts, they’ve done so nicely.
With Henry in the lineup, there isn’t a soul alive who doesn’t know the game plan of the Titans. They place the ball into the belly of the back-to-back rush king and watch as defenders were helpless. Without him, quarterback Ryan Tannehill was expected to step up.
The offense doesn’t change with or without Derrick Henry
In eight games with Henry this season, as a whole, the Titans rushed for 1,181 yards, with Henry responsible for 937. On average, the Titans rushed for 147.6 yards per game. It wasn’t just the running game that flourished but Tannehill as well. With so many eyes placed on the backfield, Tannehill’s receivers played one on one all game long. The former Pro Bowler threw the ball on average about 33 times a game for just a hair over 250 yards.
Without Henry, head coach Mike Vrabel refused to place any unwanted and unneeded pressure on his QB. So, even with Henry out of the lineup, Vrabel asked Tannehill to do less. On average, Tannehill threw the ball a shade under 30 times per game for an average of just 192 yards per game.
The rushing attack of the Titans, surprisingly enough, didn’t take an enormous hit. In nine games without Henry in the lineup, Vrabel audaciously asked his running game to step up. The Titans would go on to average 135.8 rushing yards per game, only 11.8 yards less than the 147.6 they were averaging with Henry in the lineup.
More than anything, the success of the Titans wasn’t simply dictated by Henry’s violent running style or Vrabel’s ridiculously stout defense which held opposing squads to 20.8 points per game, good for sixth in the league. What made the Titans special, was their ability to hold onto the football, wear out rival defenses while simultaneously forcing opposing offenses to sit on the sidelines and patiently wait their turn.
In their ball games with Henry, the Titans managed to have a higher time possession than their opponents in six of those eight games. Without him, it was much of the same, holding the time of possession lead in six of those nine remaining games. Let’s also not forget that the Titans went 6-2 with him in the lineup and 6-3 without him, almost an identical record.
As the Tennessee Titans kick their feet up and wait to see who they’ll possibly play in the divisional round, the big fella Derrick Henry is set to return to action. But while fans undoubtedly believe that their chances of success raises significantly with him back in the lineup, we don’t find that to be an ostensible statement.
Whether Henry officially returns for the divisional round or has some sort of unforeseen setback, coach Mike Vrabel intends on coaching the same way. Meaning, they’ll rush the ball right down your throat, control the clock, and hope Ryan Tannehill doesn’t make any mistakes.