Hulk and Hustle, Smash and Dash, whatever you call them, Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis are a powerful group in the Titans’ backfield. There was a lot of talk in the preseason about how the team would split the touches. Many believed Henry would be used as the primary back, while Lewis would be the third-down/change of pace back. However, through two games it seems like the split is more complicated than that.
Overall Split Thus Far
Lewis has edged out Henry for touches in the first two games with 36 to Henry’s 29. The usage of the two seemed to even out against the Texans, where Lewis only received 56% of the snaps. However, in the game in Miami, Lewis received 71% of the snaps, basically taking over in the second half. These numbers seem odd considering the Titans proclaimed Henry was the starting tailback. However, offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur obviously seems more interested in using them situationally rather than a strict depth chart.
The Titans have been trailing for 55 offensive plays so far this season. In those snaps, Lewis has received 15 carries and 8 targets, while Henry has just 5 carries and hasn’t been targeted. When Tennessee has been in the lead, Henry has received more wear with 12 carries and a target compared to Lewis’s 9 carries and a target. Lewis has obviously been used more often this year, but that is only because the situation called for it.
Henry in the Wildcat
LaFleur hasn’t completely ignored the Heisman winner. Henry was given almost a full series taking snaps in the wildcat. The formation has been widely fazed out long after it was made famous by the tandem of Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown in Miami. However, with the injuries to the Titan offense, LaFleur had it up his sleeve. Henry ran for 17 yards on 4 carries from the wildcat and also completed a pass to Taywan Taylor for an eight yard gain. This led to the Titans only offensive touchdown of the game.
Henry has seemed to fall into the background with Dion Lewis’s electric play style. Lewis gets more snaps and more touches, but LaFleur has found a creative way to use his powerful bruising back.
Outlook for the Rest of the Year
The first two weeks don’t mean that Lewis will become the primary back for this team. He has definitely had more success, averaging just under 4 yards per carry, while Henry averages just under 3. However, Henry showed his ability to wear down defenses late in games last season. The use of Lewis will allow Henry to do that even more in situations where the Titans need to chew clock and get first downs. Henry will be fresh in the fourth quarter and nobody on any defense is going to want to tackle him in the last two minutes of games.
Expect the trend of Lewis getting more touches when the Titans are losing to continue. He has the ability to make big plays in the running game and the passing game. When trailing, it will be crucial for him to get the ball on screens and short routes. Henry is the bruiser they can use to finish off games. I expect LaFleur’s use of the backs to continue to be situational. Whoever is best for what the offense is trying to achieve will get snaps. It won’t be a starter and a backup. The Titans are lucky to have two starting quality running backs who can do different things to help the offense.