Should the Tennessee Titans start to panic about Derrick Henry?

Derrick Henry (Mandatory Credit: The Tennessean)
Derrick Henry (Mandatory Credit: The Tennessean) /

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry has not shown anything to give fans hope in his first 120 minutes of the season with two abysmal performances against two teams not known for their rush defense.

Whether it sounds premature or not, you have to ask whether or not it is time for the Tennessee Titans to hit the panic button on their star running back.

There are a couple of camps of thought among fans. Some say Derrick Henry is finally on the decline. Some are swearing that it’s the playcalling. Others have pointed out that the offensive line is failing Henry.

It’s most likely a combination of all three.

While Tennessee fans are used to Henry being a bit of a slow burner to start the year, this time seems different than 2019, 2020, or 2021.

Against the Bills, Hassan Haskins, the rookie running back, outrushed Derrick Henry on four fewer rushes. Even if Haskins’s yards were mostly garbage time plays (against some backups), it’s still concerning for Titans fans after years of Henry making starting defenders look like backups.

It’s the second game in a row that Henry has rushed for less than 90 yards and, really, a third if you count last season’s playoff game against the Bengals. (And if you want to get really concerned, it is actually the fifth game in a row when you go back to his games against the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs).

You have to wonder if the Jones fracture that Derrick Henry suffered last season is affecting the 28-year-old running back.

How can Derrick Henry overcome these challenges

The bad news is that the science suggests Henry is facing an uphill battle to get back to his physical peak.

According to a study from the Orthopedics Journal of Sports Medicine, “For every position group, players with Jones fractures had lower… scores compared with controls. This was particularly significant for defensive linemen and running backs.”

Jones fractures are typically the most debilitating to players with Henry’s skill set. It’s especially concerning since Henry is a running back built like a defensive lineman.

But with Tennessee Titan’s media and Twitter marching in unison against Todd Downing, we also have to ask if Derrick Henry not playing well is a result of his injury, or if play calling is handicapping his ability.

The play calling is especially infuriating since Henry looked good on straight-ahead runs where he could just attack the line, running for nine yards on one run on their first possession and, of course, the two-yard touchdown run as well.

For a team that is “committed to the run”, they seem to use the run in the least imaginative and least effective ways possible.

Todd Downing seemingly answered the call to make the offense less predictable by running an outside toss play four times in one game for an altogether net gain of zero yards.

Despite the whirlwind of hate that Todd Downing has found himself engulfed in, there is reason to believe that with Henry getting another year older his peaks may be lower and his valleys may be deeper regardless of playcalling.

In the game against the Bills, Henry had a carry that took him to the same part of the field where he had his iconic stiff arm against Josh Norman and as he reached out toward the defender to make his signature move, his hand was quickly swatted away and he was easily tackled for a loss.

Through two games, Henry just looks easier to tackle and less explosive. His entire career he has made his money by making the first man miss and that has been a rare sight so far this year.

Whether that is the new norm for the legendary Titans running back or a result of other unrelated issues remains to be seen.

Henry is averaging 3.1 yards per attempt through two games which would be the lowest of his career by a whole yard if it stays that way.

That said, the entire offense has looked anemic two games into the season. Which makes it hard to pass judgment on Henry’s stat line just two games in.

The same issues stood out in the Giants game too. Henry seemed poised to break a big one-off in that game before the entire offense completely stalled out after halftime.

It’s an uphill battle with bad play calling and an offensive line that seemingly refuses to block consistently. With the uncertain future of Taylor Lewan’s season, the offensive line is largely made up of young players and career back-ups aside from the always steady Ben Jones.

If they stay healthy and stabilize the offensive line, I think they can become solid enough by the end of the year, but offensive line problems can cripple a team. Just ask Joe Burrow.

But the facts remain the same, the Titans are 0-2 and Derrick Henry has looked tame, to say the least. This is worrying since Vrabel has said, the running game is “exactly how we want to play the game.” He praised the first drive of the game, saying the Titans “Went down there, committed to a short-yardage run, scored a touchdown. Just weren’t able to do enough after that.”

So, for better or worse, the Titans will stick with the running game this season.

But Henry has started slowly before and we know that the team is suffering from multifaceted issues, so his struggles may be symptomatic of a larger team problem than a Henry one. Therefore, I am hesitant to ring the alarm bells just yet.

In a previous article from this summer, I asked if Derrick Henry has enough to carry the Titans to the Superbowl. It is starting to seem like the better question is: “Can Derrick Henry even run the Titans to a win?”