The Carolina Panthers currently have a better record than the Tennessee Titans (6-3 vs 5-4), but the Nashville based franchise proved this week to be smarter than their neighbors to the east.
Carolina and Tennessee are in a similar situation when it comes to the running back position.
The Titans have a dynamic running back in Dion Lewis and a (supposed to be at least) between the tackles runner in Derrick Henry. The Panthers have a similar combination in second year running back Christian McCaffrey and former 1,000 yard rusher C.J. Anderson. At least they did until Monday, when they inexplicably released Anderson.
Carolina’s offensive attack clearly relies on McCaffrey, who is on the field for 96 percent of the Panthers’ offensive snaps.
In Nashville, there’s a similar shift taking place. Lewis is undoubtedly the featured running back. He played 75 percent of the snaps against the Patriots, compared to 25 percent of the snaps for Henry.
.@danorlovsky7 on @Midday180: Henry doesn’t seem to be a part of what is coming together. Don’t know if it’s a great fit either way. Imagine they pick their spots for him rest of way, then each go their own direction after the season. #Titans
— Paul Kuharsky (@PaulKuharskyNFL) November 12, 2018
But while Lewis is clearly a better fit in Matt LaFleur’s offense, much like McCaffrey is in Norv Turner’s offense in Carolina, it would’ve been a terrible move for the Titans to give up on Henry in the middle of the season.
The Titans made Henry available at the trade deadline, but they weren’t going to just give him away. General manager Jon Robinson didn’t receive any offers that blew him away, so Henry remained in Nashville.
While I don’t think Henry has a longterm future with the Titans, it’s for the best that he’s still with the team.
The running back position in incredibly demanding. The Panthers are silly if they think McCaffrey can continue to be on the field for 96 percent of his team’s snaps and perform at a high level. Eventually, all those hits are going to take a toll (even when he’s not touching the ball, he’s blocking).
Henry has more talent than Anderson, but Anderson has accomplished more in the NFL (he’s only a year removed from a 1,000 yard rushing season). If something happens to McCaffrey, the Panthers are going to rely on two unproven running backs — Cameron Artis-Payne and Travaris Cadet.
If something happens to Lewis, the Titans still have Henry they can lean on. He might not be the best fit in LaFleur’s offense, but he’s still a very capable running back.
The Titans were smart to not be in a rush to move on from Henry, because they completely understand the beating that NFL running backs take on a weekly basis.
Carolina might be getting a ton of production from McCaffrey right now, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to keep playing at a high level in December, given his ridiculous workload.
The Titans, on the other hand, will have a relatively fresh backfield if they manage to make the playoffs.
Advantage Jon Robinson.
Featured image via Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports