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On handling DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry

How will Mike Mularkey handle the running back situation in Tennessee?

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Many fans have been calling for the 6’3” 238 pound running back from Alabama to take over the lead duties for the Titans for some time now. After the way the game ended last Sunday, with Derrick Henry amassing 79 yards on 13 carries, punishing the Colt’s defense and grinding out 8 minutes of clock, it would be hard for many to argue otherwise.

Earlier in the year, Henry dominated the ground attack against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He finished the game with a 6.6 ypc average against Murray’s 2.8 ypc, and looked dominate doing so. The following week however, it was Murray that had the big game against a strong Seahawks front, picking up a grand 8.2 ypc and a long 75 yard touchdown.

Fast forward to the week 6 divisional match up against the Colts, and Henry was again dominant. 19 carries for 131 yards including the 72 yard at the end of the game to put an extra nail in the Colts coffin. Maybe it was time to shift the load to Henry for good this time. The only problem with that was an ugly game against the Browns the following week.

The entire team struggled against the Browns, but non more than Derrick Henry. DeMarco only had 59 yards on 18 carries, but Henry fell desperately short of that mark with 13 carries for 13 yards.

So far these are just numbers, without context or even discussing the eye test. But they can been used to illustrate the potential “not so fast “ thinking, that may rebuttal the calls for Henry.

Up until recently, Murray has been able to provide a little extra “something” that Henry hasn’t had. The plant and burst when there’s nothing there. The getting skinny and vertical for a handful of yards instead of a 1 yard loss. Excellent hands and awareness in the passing game. And then there’s the type of play such as this game winning end zone dive against the Bengals.

The problem with the last few games, however, is that these attributes have stopped shining through. Murray looks slow to the hole, he second guesses his reads, and once the decision is made, that burst that made him so dominant just doesn’t look like he’s there. Whether its’s father time or injury we may never know. But he’s not the same non the less.

Murray’s pass blocking is better, yes. His route running and hands out of the backfield are still better as well. But for all of Murray’s positives, right now Henry is running better consistently and leaving less plays to be had on the field. Henry may give reason for pause at times, but the bottom line at this point in the season is that during the last 4 games Henry has 189 yards on 39 carries. Murray has 80 yards on 43 carries. This discrepancy can no longer be ignored.

So, do we all agree that Henry should get the lion’s share of the carries? Great. The real issue going forward now is how head coach Mike Mularkey handles the situation going forward.

Part of being a coach is handling the delicate balance of egos in a locker room of stars and athletes. Let’s not forget that DeMarco Murray became a malcontent in Philadelphia and was reportedly part of the spearhead that got Chip Kelly fired. All has been fine and dandy here in Nashville, but he has also been the bell cow back and starter.

The Tennessee Titans are in their first legitimate playoff push in a very very long time. The locker room dynamic is good. The players all respect each other and the coaches. Switching the bulk of the carries to Henry needs to happen, but how Mularkey handles it is yet to be seen.

Mularkey could still let Murray hang on to the “starter” moniker, and keep him in on mostly 3rd downs and as a receiving threat. Let him spell drives and even take the first series. Keep him fresh for the playoffs and let his hamstring heal. Most importantly let him keep his pride as much as possible while the young man takes over his role.

Not making the switch would be just as bad as making it poorly. Let’s hope he handles this one right.