Losing Derrick Henry isn't a modern-day loss for the Tennessee Titans

Don't overestimate Derrick Henry's departure in relation to the Tennessee Titans' 2024 productivity
Tennessee Titans v Houston Texans
Tennessee Titans v Houston Texans / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

This offseason has been outstanding for the Tennessee Titans, and there has really only been one loss that might come back to haunt them. Obviously, I'm referring to Denico Autry, who was signed by the Houston Texans.

Don't get me wrong, Derrick Henry will certainly gain entrance into the Titans' Ring of Honor. The Titans legend has a strong argument to be a Hall of Famer, too. However, with Henry no longer being in his prime, he just didn't fit into the modern NFL offense that new head coach Brian Callahan is installing.

With very few exceptions, teams that pass the ball more frequently score more points and win more games. This can get lost sometimes because if a pass-heavy team is winning by enough in the fourth quarter, they start to run the ball more to run out the clock. People who defend run-heavy offenses usually use those raw numbers as an example of how "balanced" offenses work in the NFL, but the raw numbers don't give people the proper context.

For example, teams that take a knee three times in a row win 99.9% of their games. Does that mean that the Titans should open every game by taking a knee three times because of that success rate? No, because that stat lacks situational context.

This chart provides the context that the raw numbers don't by only using the early-down passing rate of teams that had between 20-80% chance of winning the game. Look at the teams at the top of the chart during the Henry's era.

The Titans only survived that stretch because of just how special Henry was. He would routinely rip off chunk plays at the end of games that would turn the tide for the Titans.

During his peak in 2020, Henry carried the ball 378 times for 2,027 yards (5.4 yards per attempt) including 16 carries of 20+ yards (4.2%).

Last season, Henry ran 280 times for 1,167 yards (4.2 yards per attempt) with five runs of 20+ yards (1.8%).

A run-heavy offense can only thrive when a running back has a high YPA and explosive run rate. Both of those numbers have been trending down for Henry, but that isn't all.

Stylistically, the first carry you get from Henry will never be as good as the 25th carry. During his career, Henry has shown over and over again that he finishes strong, but it takes time (and carries) for his engine to start revving. The Titans often survived a dozen rushes that gained three yards before you really saw Henry break off a big run.

On top of that, Henry's results in pass protection were at times inconsistent, and despite some success in the screen game, Henry was never a natural hands catcher. That is why it has been so easy for teams to predict what the Mike Vrabel-era Titans were going to do on offense.

The only coach who correctly took advantage of that was Arthur Smith with his play-action passing game. Other than that, Titans coaches often ran Henry into brick walls for large stretches, hoping he'd break off one of his explosive runs.

With Henry gone, the Titans are losing a legend, but gain the ability to show off their creativity and deception with a fresh, new approach to play calling. Last year, Tyjae Spears was almost twice as explosive as Henry, while also thriving in passing situations. The Titans continued to lean heavily on their storied workhorse.

Between the departure of Henry and hiring Callahan to run an offense that depends on three-receiver sets, the Titans are going to see lighter boxes and less pressure than they have in a very long time.

If defenses still try to play like they have in the past, the Titans will pick them apart through the air. If those defenses overcorrect, then Spears and Tony Pollard should rack up rushing yards on unsuspecting defenses.

At every turn, the Titans have talked about how much more this offense is going to lean on the passing game, and how much they value the versatility of their running back tandem. That is because this offense needs to be flexible so that they can attack where the opposing defense is weak instead of living and dying with Henry and a one-sided approach.

It is alright to miss Henry from a nostalgia standpoint, but don't let anyone tell you that losing him hurts the 2024 Titans offense in any significant way. As runners, Spears and Pollard can give you as much or more than the modern-day version of Henry, and their versatility makes the play-calling less predictable.

That's something Titans fans should be excited about.