Tennessee Titans’ running back Derrick Henry has proven himself as one of the best in the league this season. With a 211 yard and three-touchdown performance in Week 17 against the Texans to cement the Titans’ playoff berth, he clinched the rushing title away from Nick Chubb. However, he needs to prove himself in the playoffs in order to help the Titans survive and advance and make a special run this season.
King Henry’s Downfall in 2017
Back in the divisional round of the 2017 playoffs, Henry and the Titans traveled to Foxboro to face the Patriots. The week before, Tennessee had come back from a 21-3 deficit to defeat the Chiefs in Kansas City. Henry had just rushed for a career-high 156 yards and looked like a future star in Nashville.
However, the Patriots subdued Henry easily in the next round. The bruising running back was only able to gain 28 yards on 12 carries as the Titans were eliminated in blowout fashion, 35-14.
Bill Belichek and the Patriots were able to scheme up a way to stop Henry two years ago. That can’t happen this Saturday if the Titans want to pull off the upset.
The More Carries, The Better
Since Henry became the Titans leading man in the backfield in 2018, Tennessee is 13-5 when he receives 16 or more carries. In games when he receives 15 or less, they are just 4-9.
Henry can wear down defenses, especially this deep into the season when players are tired and beaten up. This can also be amplified by bad weather, which is expected in Foxboro this weekend.
It’s going to be cold wherever the Titans go in the playoffs. Letting Henry beat up defenses all game long and getting him above 20 carries will be pivotal in trying to go deep into the playoffs.
Let’s Reset the Market
Not only does Henry have football incentives to perform well in the playoffs, but he has financial incentives. Obviously, Henry would like to make a deep playoff run and contend for the Super Bowl. However, in just a few short months, Henry will be a free agent unless the Titans lock him up prior to March 18.
After this breakout season with over 1500 yards and 16 touchdowns, the former Heisman winner is in good position to earn a historic contract. A dominant performance in the postseason would almost guarantee that.
Last postseason, we saw running backs take center stage. Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson helped the Rams bully opponents into submission on their way to the playoffs. Henry will look to do the same and pass Gurley and other backs on his way to becoming the highest-paid running back ever.
Setting Up The Play Action
Ryan Tannehill has been phenomenal at quarterback since taking over for Marcus Mariota in Week 7. However, not all of the credit can go to him. Henry forces defenses to load the box and often makes linebackers and safeties bite on play-action plays more often. This allows Tannehill to make easier reads and throws downfield.
Using the run to set up big plays in play action is going to be crucial for Tennessee. The Titans have relied on explosive plays from not just Henry, but A.J. Brown and other weapons downfield. If Henry can draw all of the attention from the defense, Tannehill should be able to take his shots downfield and make those big plays in Saturday’s game.
Overall, Henry is possibly the most important player on the AFC side of the bracket. In the playoffs, a run-game and a solid defense will travel. If the Titans can keep King Henry rolling into January, there is no better run-game in the NFL. That should scare anyone who sees the two-tone blue rolling into town.