Derrick Henry’s sensational performance against the Jaguars proved more than just his on-field ability.

To call the 2018 season one of ups and downs for Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry would be inaccurate. Up until the Titans’ matchup against the Jaguars on Thursday Night Football, Henry’s season was almost entirely disappointing.

With DeMarco Murray no longer in the fold, most people expected Henry to take over as the Titans’ bell cow running back. Even with the addition of the quick and shifty Dion Lewis, it seemed that Henry was destined for an early-down, feature role.

Due to consistent poor play from Henry, that idea never came to fruition. The Titans were patient with Henry but ultimately began giving much of their early-down work to Lewis.

Henry’s ineffectiveness from Weeks 1-13 was not simply a result of poor scheming or bad offensive line play. Henry, himself, was not good.

Far too often, Henry lacked aggressiveness in his running style. He seemingly refused to lower his shoulder and made it easy for even the smallest of defenders to bring him down cleanly.

After the Titans’ win over Jacksonville, Henry said that he saw his early-season struggles as an opportunity for reflection. “I look at it as adversity. Everybody has adversity in their life, and I’ve had plenty of adversity within this sport. I just had to look at myself in the mirror and, you know, be a man about it and just overcome it. I have to continue to get better, continue to work at the things I need to get better at.”

Against Jacksonville, the ineffectiveness came to a screeching halt. Henry absolutely exploded against one of the NFL’s most talented defenses, a defense that had shut out red-hot Colts offense just four days prior.

Henry finished the day with a franchise record 238 rushing yards and 4 rushing touchdowns. His final yards-per-carry average was a sensational 14.

“I would say very impressive,” head coach Mike Vrabel said when asked how he would describe Henry’s performance. “I think that we knew we had to run the football. Derrick ran hard, the o-line did a great job, the coaches had them prepared. In this league, you can’t block them all.

“You can’t block every guy. So you’ve got to make them miss, run them over, stiff arm, do something. That’s what Derrick did. There were times when guys weren’t blocked and he got on the edge, stiff-armed a few guys. He was really able to break away, and we’re going to continue to need that.”

Quarterback Marcus Mariota was nearly speechless when asked about Henry’s performance. “I had a front row seat to it, it was pretty awesome. It’s hard to put it into words. I think he is more than deserving of it, he was kind of due for one of those. Some of those runs were pretty incredible.”

Henry’s success was by no means the only reason that the Titans were able to handsomely defeat the Jaguars, but it was undoubtedly the biggest. With both Henry and Lewis in major slumps over the past several weeks, the Titans offense has struggled as a whole.

The lack of an effective run game limited the offense’s play-action opportunities and made life a lot more difficult for Mariota. The quarterback agreed that an effective running game helps every single aspect of the offense.

“It takes a lot of pressure off,” he said. “You have third-and-manageable. You run the ball well and you get first downs, moving the chains—it definitely helps.”

The biggest play of the day for Henry was obviously his triumphant 99-yard march down the field, during which he brutally stiff-armed a pair of Jaguars defenders. Asked about what made the play possible, Henry did take some of the credit for himself, but he was also quick to praise his teammates.

“It was so crazy because before when we were in the huddle, they were like, ‘you’ve got to break a 99-yarder.’ I wasn’t even supposed to get positive yards. But I had the ball, I got it, I saw it, and I just hit it. My stiff arm’s great…but it started up front with those guys, with all eleven of us executing the play for that to happen.”

Perhaps the most impressive part of Henry’s day was his selfless act toward the end of the game. With the Titans in the red zone and Henry just one touchdown short of the NFL record for the most in one game, he took himself out of the game, electing to give Dion Lewis an opportunity.

“He wanted to try to give Dion a touchdown,” Vrabel said of Henry after the game. “It’s pretty impressive to have the kind of night that he did, but also care enough about the guy that is in the room, or that he spends a lot of time with every day, to want to get him in there and see if we could get him a touchdown.”

Asked what kind of teammate Henry is, Mariota revealed a side of the running back that has perhaps not been seen before. “He’s an awesome teammate, whether it’s doing extra lifts after practice, doing things right on the practice field if things aren’t maybe the way that it should be.

“He goes up and beyond and it’s no surprise that a day like this comes because he is working and continues to work on a day to day basis and just from a teammate observing, it’s well deserved because he does put in a lot of hard work.”

it has been easy to see Henry’s frustration over the last month and, as a result, perhaps unfairly criticize his attitude. Clearly, though, he has taken the right approach to the adversity he’s faced.

Thursday night’s game revealed a side of Derrick Henry that really hasn’t been in the public eye before. He is selfless, team-first, and a good teammate.

Henry probably won’t have any more games to this level this season, but it would obviously be nice for the Titans if he were able to build off of the success.

As the Titans enter the final stretch of their season, every game is extraordinarily crucial. Having an effective rushing attack, something they have lacked most of the time would do a lot of good.

If Henry can continue to run with both speed and physicality, he certainly has the ability to be a productive NFL running back. As he has shown time and time again, though, that is a big if.

Cover image: USA Today/Christopher Hanewinckel

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