Remember early in the season, when everyone was wondering if Derrick Henry was taking on too much of the workload for the Tennessee Titans?
Well, now it looks as though the Titans offense isn't revolving around the 2019 rushing champion enough, as he has not had more than 22 carries in a game since he toted the football 26 times in a week three win against the Vikings.
To put it in perspective: Henry totaled 82 carries in those first three games, averaging over 27 carries per game, and also caught five passes in that span as well.
Since that time, Henry has a total of 119 carries in six games, and the Titans are 3-3 in those contests, including losing a pair of games where Henry went over 100 yards rushing. The Titans had previously been 16-0 when Henry went over 100 yards before losses to Cincinnati and Indianapolis.
In both those games, the Titans went away from their bread-and-butter, which is Henry and the rushing game. Some of it is on the defense's inability to get off the field, but it seems almost impossible to fathom that the Titans are 29th in the league in time of possession, while having the NFL rushing leader to hand the football to.
It seems that the Titans have gotten almost too caught up in play-action on first down, and then turn to Henry to run the football a lot on second down – often second-and-10, if the first-down pass falls incomplete. If Henry doesn't pick up four or five yards on second-and-10, then he generally comes off the field on third down, which might help to explain why he has only caught one pass in the past three games. D’Onta Foreman and Jeremy McNichols have been getting some third-down looks there and there. Both have been solid, but neither is close to being the offensive threat Henry is.
Earlier in the season, Henry stayed on the field on third downs and the threat of the run was still there, as the Titans often seemed to be in third-and-manageable distance.
Last year through nine games, Henry had just one 100-yard rushing game to that point in the season, but went on to win the rushing title with five 100-yard rushing efforts in his final five games (He missed the Saints game with a hamstring injury). That included four 100-yard games in a row in weeks 10 through 13, which is where the Titans find themselves now in the season as they ready to go to Baltmore on Sunday.
Even Coach Mike Vrabel admits that Henry probably needs to be more involved in the offense than he has been in recent weeks, despite numbers superior to 2019 to this juncture.
“I'm sure that's potentially something that we can do. Derrick (Henry)’s worked hard on catching the football. We’ve tried to get him some of those screen passes and things like that and try to take advantage of what his skillset is and trying to get him the ball in areas where he’s running like you saw in Houston,” Vrabel said. “They just chose not to cover him and Ryan (Tannehill) found him as he was leaking out of the backfield. We'll keep working on finding ways to get our guys the football, whether we hand it to them or throw it to them.”
After the Titans' 34-17 loss to Indianapolis last Thursday, the lopsidedness late in the game caused Henry not to be much of a factor in the second half.
“Yeah, definitely would like for us to be in a better position to give ourselves a chance to win the game,” he said. “They just played better than us in all three phases and hats off to them. We just got to take a couple days off and then get back to work. No excuses. Just we have to be better as a team. We know that. We need to fix the mistakes and do better this week coming up.”
Despite that loss, the Titans are still in much better shape at 6-3 and tied for the AFC South lead than they were a year ago when they went on an improbable run to get to 9-7. The Titans were just 4-5 at this stage in 2019.
“We went on a pretty good run last year and can't really focus on what happened last year. Last year was last year. I think that we all just have to be better on all three phases and when we play like how we played today, against a team like that, then that would be the outcome” Henry said after the game. “But no excuses, we just have to be better, play better, complementary football on all three phases and just go out there, finish drives, score points, get off the field and win the game.”
And being better in all three phases, starts with Henry leading the way.