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Expect Big Things From Derrick Henry

This is a new team and new offense with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. The past of Derrick Henry can’t be used as a projection of his future.
Derrick Henry

It’s been tough sledding for Tennessee Titans star running back Derrick Henry through the first two games of the season. Yes, he has 200 yards rushing, and yes, he’s the second leading rusher in the NFL behind Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones. But dive a little deeper into the numbers and they aren’t what we’re accustomed to seeing from Henry. He’s averaging only 3.6 yards per carry and has only four rushes over 10 yards. Henry’s longest rush of the season is 14 yards and he’s yet to reach the end zone. Expect things to turn around as Derrick Henry is primed for a big week three.

Expect Big Things From Derrick Henry Going Forward

A Tale of Two Halves

Derrick Henry’s past two seasons are a tale of two halves. A notorious slow starter, Henry’s stats shift dramatically in the second half of seasons:

2018 – 2019

Games 1 – 8: 881 yards rushing and seven touchdowns

Games 9 – 16: 1,718 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns

And who can forget his performance in the 2019 playoff run that saw him rush for 446 yards and two scores. An abbreviated off-season and no preseason could exacerbate Henry’s inability to start fast, but Henry doesn’t hold all of the blame.

Coaching Carousel

Derrick Henry has played for three different offensive coordinators in four years prior to this season. Inexplicably, Matt LeFleur, the Titans’ offensive coordinator in 2018, would not elevate Henry to the Titans’ feature back until late in the season. Dion Lewis saw a shocking 42% of the carries in 2018 despite averaging a full 1.6 yards per carry less than Henry and scoring only one touchdown compared to Henry’s 12.

To go along with the coaching carousel in Tennessee, the Titans were hyper focused on developing their underperforming number two overall pick, Marcus Mariota. Not that this shouldn’t have benefited Henry. Investments on the offensive line and outside weapons should open running lanes, but it didn’t. Mariota’s struggles to develop into a premier passer in the NFL allowed defenses to stack the box. They weren’t afraid of Mariota. When the quarterback can’t beat you, you’re free to focus your defensive attention elsewhere. Often times, that meant the focus shifted to Henry.

New Titans, New Derrick Henry

But things are different now. Derrick Henry’s past can’t be used as a projection of his future success or failure. This is a new team and a new offense with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. In 2019, with Mariota under center, the Titans averaged 16 points per game. Once Tannehill took over as the starter in week 7, the Titans averaged 30 points per game, never scoring less than 20. Having not started the entire season, the Tannehill-led Titans scored 402 points. The last Titans team to do that? The 12-4 team from 2003 led by Steve McNair.

Through the first two weeks of the 2020 season one theme is evident: Don’t let Derrick Henry beat us – which typically happens in embarrassing fashion for linebackers and defensive backs. Defenses are daring Ryan Tannehill to beat them with his arm, and he’s doing exactly that. Defenses can no longer simply stack the box and send eight defenders at Henry’s legs. Tannehill will take advantage and win. The Titans aren’t one-dimensional anymore and no one should be more excited than Henry.

Looking ahead to this Sunday’s matchup at Minnesota, look for Henry to have a big game. The Minnesota Vikings are allowing 155 rushing yards per game through the first two weeks, fifth worst in the NFL. Not to mention they’ll be without two defensive stars up front, defensive end Danielle Hunter and linebacker Anthony Barr. With Tannehill beating teams with his arm, expect Henry to take advantage. Slow starts are a thing of the past.

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