NASHVILLE — The undefeated Tennessee Titans (5-0) continue to mow teams down on the strength of their offense. But, through four games, running back Derrick Henry had yet to really find his stride.
That changed Sunday with a 42-36 victory over the rival Houston Texans (1-5).
Tennessee offensive coordinator Arthur Smith refused to give up on the rushing attack in the first quarter of their season despite Henry averaging a pedestrian 3.7 yards per carry. Then, the fifth-year back bullied his way through Houston’s defense for 212 yards, a long of 94 and two touchdowns that included the game-winner in overtime.
Football fans everywhere have seen Henry break off these chunk plays before, but what is it like to block for him on one?
Titans right tackle Dennis Kelly has seen every touchdown run (and catch) of Henry’s career.
GM Jon Robinson traded wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham to the Philadelphia Eagles for Kelly in August of 2016. That Spring, Robinson drafted Henry to be second fiddle to DeMarco Murray and the Heisman-winner from Alabama really did not secure the starting role until halfway through the 2018 campaign. Henry became the fifth player in NFL history with multiple runs of 90 yards or more in his latest performance en route to a career day with 264 yards from scrimmage. It makes Tennessee’s running back the only player in NFL history to record a 200+ yard rushing total in three consecutive seasons.
Kelly’s been there to witness them all and block up a few in the process.
“It’s one of those things where, I think with Derrick (Henry) whenever we kind of get backed up, at least for me, there’s always that vibe of ‘Are we gonna do Jacksonville again?'” Kelly told me on the latest 615 Sessions podcast. “It happened again on Sunday so it was just one of those things where you line up and you know what the play is and you see where things are kind of lining up. You’re kind of in your head like ‘Well, if this happens, it’s in his hands.’ Like, obviously he made some guys miss and then just outran everyone.”
Kelly’s referencing the 99-yard touchdown jaunt against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 6 2018. That day, Henry totaled 238 yards on the ground and four scores to carry the Titans to a win. The Jacksonville game was well out of hand when Henry stiff-armed his way into the end zone but Sunday against the Texans meant much more to that game’s outcome.
Backed up at the Tennessee 6-yard line with 9:37 remaining in the fourth quarter, quarterback Ryan Tannehill audibled into a run to the right side. Henry took the handoff, cut back left and took it the distance for a 29-23 Titans lead.
“It’s still fascinating watching (Henry) run,” Kelly went on to say. “On the field, it doesn’t look like he’s moving that fast to me. But, he just keeps pulling away from people and it’s one of the most fascinating things I’ve seen because, he is so big and his strides are so long, it doesn’t look like he’s churning out his feet super quick but he just pulls away from people like its nothing.”
Can Henry Keep It Up?
Coach Mike Vrabel said after the win that he does feel like expectations for Henry explosive plays had become a little unrealistic and that “they think every time he’s going to touch the ball it’s going to be a 30-yard gain.”
The Titans will face a much more stout run defense when the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-0) visit Nashville this week. Per ESPN’s Turron Davenport, Pittsburgh is holding teams to 66.2 rushing yards per game (second in the NFL) and rank first in the NFL in run stop win rate dating back to last season.
Vrabel, Kelly, Henry, all of us watching in Nissan Stadium or on TV know that every carry may not go for 30. 90+ yards, though, remains an ever-present possibility.
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