In his rookie season, Derrick Henry showed glimpses of what he could do with a limited amount of touches.
In his second season, many felt Henry should’ve been used more as opposed to an ailing DeMarco Murray.
In year three, it appeared that with a new coaching staff in place and Murray out of the picture, the real Derrick Henry would stand up and his production would be booming.
But...that hasn’t happened.
It is evident that Matt LaFleur still hasn’t figured out how to properly use Henry where his effectiveness can make an offensive impact.
Henry’s physical size is deceiving when trying to understand exactly what he is capable and can excel at.
He’s not a bruiser. He doesn’t boast a pounding, physical run-style. His physicality isn’t even his biggest strength - and some would say it is one area he lacks.
Henry is not a violent runner, despite being built like one. He is a home run hitter. He is a threat when he builds up steam. He is virtually unstoppable once he accelerates to the second level of the defense.
He is also completely ineffective when his legs are wrapped up in the backfield, when he doesn’t trust the hole and when he’s has a low volume of carries.
Bring Back the Closer
Henry is slated in the starting role, but what does that really mean?
Sure, he gets the nod to be the first back on the field. However, after a series, Dion Lewis receives most of the workload due to being better in the passing game.
Why start Henry just show a start is credited to his stat line? If the goal is solely just to give Henry the start so he is labeled a “starter”, that is weak and is not allowing the offense to prosper.
To fix this issue, LaFleur must start Lewis. Give him nod, and then bring in Henry when he is most effective - late in games when defenses are worn down. It’s better for his confidence because a fresh-legged Henry is able to do damage against a fatigued defense.
Henry isn’t a back that can thrive in an offense that will give him the majority of his touches in the first half. He needs volume, or at least the majority of his carries to be in the third and fourth quarter.
Tale of Two Halves
Henry only carried the football three times in the second half against the Ravens. Sure, with only a handful of offensive possessions and trailing 21, it’s somewhat understandable as to why the Titans decided not to run the ball.
The team needed points and the fastest way to score is through the air - usually. However, Baltimore’s relentless pass rush essentially eliminated the Titans pass attack as they wrapped up Marcus Mariota nearly a record amount of times for the sack.
But - let’s look back to the previous games and the usage of Henry.
Against the Buffalo Bills, Henry toted the football 11 times for 56 yards. He only had three carries in the second half.
Against the Eagles, Henry had eight carries for 24 yards. Again, three carries in the second half.
Against the Jaguars, Henry rushed 18 times for a total of 57 yards with 13 carries accrued in the second half of play. Yes - this is an outlier that goes against my arguement. If Henry is fed the ball 18 times but only had 57 yards, why would they elect to force feed him?
The answer is because no two defenses are the same and Henry’s ability to break one off is undeniable.
When the Titans faced Houston, Henry had 18 carries for 56 yards. Similar to the above stat line - however, Henry was an essential ingredient to a winning formula. The incorporation of the Wildcat offense centered around Henry. He was able to move the chains and put the Titans in position to score points.
Remember, Henry’s stats in the season opener are deceiving. He finished with 26 yards on 10 attempts. He also had a 60+ yard touchdown negated due to a bogus penalty.
With all that being said - it’s clear that Henry hasn’t been used right and in order for the offense to take off, LaFleur must brainstorm on ways in which the team can use Henry’s abilities to produce offensive points or sustain drives.
Trial and Error
When the Titans travel to London to face the Los Angeles Chargers, Lewis should be the starting running back.
Try to ignite the passing offense early and mix in some Lewis runs to get the defense off balance. Then, once the defense is teetering, send in Henry.
Henry doesn’t need to start to make an offensive impact. He just needs to be used in the right circumstance.
Early in games - especially on first down - Henry may have some carries that go for no gain or a loss of a few yards. This causes drives to stall and can be a shot to the offense’s - and Henry’s - confidence.
Reverse the course by allowing the offense to not be easily identifiable in the opening series. With Henry cemented as the starter, defenses know the Titans are going to try and run the ball early. Adapt, adjust and let Lewis start.
Then, give Henry some work. The team will benefit by understanding when and how to use Henry. LaFleur must realize this sooner rather than later.