The All-22 Review is a recurring feature here at Music City Miracles breaking down the tape from the previous week’s Titans game. The focus will vary depending on where the action on the field takes us, but the idea is to bring insights that may have been missed on the TV broadcast.
The 2018 Titans have been promising, infuriating, unpredictable, tantalizing, and several other adjectives, both good and bad. Whatever you think of them overall, you can’t deny that they’ve been wildly entertaining, especially in Nissan Stadium.
Tennessee’s 30-9 beatdown of the Jaguars on Thursday Night Football pushed their home record to 5-1 on the season and 15-3 since midway through 2016. The 2018 team has given us the red hot start of the Texans game, the furious comeback of the Eagles game, the total annihilation of the Patriots, the wild comeback against the Jets, and now The Derrick Henry Game. Home fans have certainly gotten good bang for their entertainment buck at 1 Titans Way this season.
Beating the Jaguars in primetime is always fun, but that was a game that I will always remember thanks to Henry’s 17-carry, 238-yard, 4 touchdown performance that broke the franchise’s single game rushing record, no small feat for a team that has employed Earl Campbell, Eddie George, and Chris Johnson. Henry’s 99-yard rumble — which tied Tony Dorsett’s NFL record for longest carry — is arguably the greatest run in the history of football.
So let’s take a look at how Henry’s big game developed and what it could mean for the Titans moving forward.
Henry! Henry! Henry!
The “Henry! Henry! Henry!” chants from the Nissan Stadium towards the end of this game were one of the best organic crowd moments in recent Titans history. The obvious connection back to the “Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!” chants for Eddie George during the team’s early days in Nashville raised a few goosebumps for me.
Here is the results for each of Henry’s 17 carries in order:
3 yards, touchdown
99 yards, touchdown
16 yards, touchdown
54 yards, touchdown
That’s an unbelievable 7 carries of 10 or more yards during the game. After his 54-yard touchdown run in the 3rd quarter he already had 219 yards and 4 touchdowns on just 11 carries, numbers that would make even the best high school running backs blush.
Henry ran hard and decisively all night long and his offensive line did a nice job giving him space to work with. That started with the very first carry of the game. It’s a simple outside zone run, but the line does an excellent job of executing. Taylor Lewan gets good push against Dawuane Smoot (No. 94), guards Quinton Spain and Josh Kline both climb to the second level and pick off linebackers Telvin Smith (No. 50) and Myles Jack (No. 44), Jack Conklin does a great job of reaching and turning Taven Bryan (No. 90), and Ben Jones absolutely mauls nose tackle Eli Ankou (No. 54). All that work leaves a nice cutback lane for Henry and the big back does a great job of finding it and exploding through. He runs through Yannick Ngakoue’s arm tackle (No. 91) and then finishes by falling forward at the 5-yard line.
Henry’s first touchdown featured more good work by the offensive line, particularly the interior group that has struggled for much of 2018. Watch Kline, Jones, and Spain (spotlighted) on this play. Each of them perfectly execute their blocks and Henry does a nice job of getting in the endzone despite Luke Stocker giving up an inside slant to Smoot (No. 94).
The other guy to watch here is Taylor Lewan. He absolutely manhandles Ngakoue and takes him out of the play completely. The Titans tackles deserve some credit for their work against Ngakoue on the night. The Jags edge rusher played 41 snaps on the night, but recorded zero tackles, zero assists, zero sacks, zero QB hits, and zero pressures. Not only did the Titans offensive line delete Ngakoue, they emptied their trash bin afterwards.
I’ve been hard on Jonnu Smith’s blocking at times this season in the All-22, but he was clearly making strides in that department prior to the injury. Here is an example of that progress. He’s blocking Calais Campbell one-on-one here which should be an enormous mismatch in favor of the Jaguars, but instead Smith wins the matchup and helps seal a cutback edge for Henry who does an excellent job of setting up this run by showing inside and then cutting back out. The lateral quickness he shows on this play is really impressive for a man of his size and something that we haven’t always seen from him in the past.
Here is THE run. I’ll share both angles for this one because... well... I can’t get enough of it. The sideline view shows a couple interesting items outside of Henry’s fantastic work chucking grown men off him like he’s the hero in a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. First, check out MyCole Pruitt (spotlighted) putting Telvin Smith on roller skates and then tossing him to the ground with contempt. Also, make sure to notice Jalen Ramsey’s pathetic effort at the bottom of the screen. He gives zero effort to get back in the play, robbing us of yet another mauling of him by Henry. Sad.
The endzone angle shows the blocking at the point of attack better. It’s a really good job by the entire left side of the Titans unbalanced line here. Luke Stocker, Taylor Lewan, and Quinton Spain all get great push on their assignments. MyCole Pruitt (No. 85) is perfect in his combination block. And finally, Jonnu Smith ends up sealing off two defenders coming in from the outside to create the little seam that Henry sneaks through. It’s also great vision from the running back here as this certainly wasn’t a gaping hole when he hit it. Henry’s play has really elevated since the bye week and even before this stat-breaking game, he had been putting up some really nice work on a per-carry basis.
The Titans continued to have some success with the Wild Tractor package as well in this game. Henry gets nice pull blocks from Kline and Pruitt on the counter trey look with Lewan climbing up and picking off Myles Jack on the second level. The rest is all Henry though. He keeps his balance through early contact, bounces off a Telvin Smith tackle attempt, and then runs right through Tashaun Gipson for a big gain.
Obviously the 99-yarder is the best carry of Henry’s career, but I’d rank this next one in the top 5. The Titans block this one up OK up front. Kline does an excellent job with Marcel Dareus (No. 99), Conklin wipes out Ngakoue (No. 91) completely once again, and Jones does a great job of helping Spain and then timing his release perfectly to pick off Myles Jack. Downfield, Corey Davis helps push Gipson out of position as well.
But Henry is downright special here. Watch him set up Jack (No. 44) for the Jones block with a quick jab step outside, slide through a tight window while avoiding getting tripped up, and then use his lateral agility to make Telvin Smith (No. 50) miss and follow Davis’ block into the endzone. This is everything you could ever ask for from a running back: vision, quickness, speed, contact balance, and effort.
The next play is Henry’s 4th and final touchdown run. Its a zone look that starts left, but Henry breaks it back right when he sees Smith filling the hole he was shooting for. This one shows off his angle erasing speed as he blows by Jalen Ramsey and Ronnie Harrison and then outruns the rest of the Jaguars defense with a little assist from Corey Davis.
Finally, we have one more big run to show. This is a simple toss play designed to take advantage of Henry’s speed and ability to beat defenders with that vicious right-handed stiff arm of his. This is mostly a demonstration of Henry’s strength. He swats away Taven Bryan’s tackle attempt in the backfield and then fends off Myles Jack for about 10 yards before the Jags linebacker is finally able to get him down.
However, my favorite part of this play is Taylor Lewan. Watch him pull around to be the lead blocker here. He gets squared up on A.J. Bouye and buries him about 7 yards out of bounds in one of the most disrespectful blocks you’ll ever see. The Titans were absolutely bullying the Jaguars defense in every way possible on Thursday night.
The Titans blocked well up front and Henry ran like an absolute animal in this one and the results were spectacular. Now we have to see if this group can follow it up on the road against and opponent that still hasn’t given up. If they can, the Titans will be in really good shape.
On top of being a complete monster all night, Henry also produced one of the more selfless moments I’ve seen during an NFL game when he took himself out of the game on the goal line to try to get Dion Lewis a shot for a touchdown instead of scoring his 5th. Henry’s attitude and work ethic during his time here has been nothing short of tremendous and he’s a shining example of a guy who truly cares about his teammates.
Other things that I liked
Obviously, Henry and the running game stole the show, but there were some good plays in the passing game as well at times. I particularly liked what I saw from the Titans screen game at times. They seem to be getting more comfortable executing this part of the offensive playbook.
Here is the big screen to Lewis early. The Titans set it up to look like one of their favorite passing concepts: yankee (something we’ve looked at a lot in this space during 2018). However, it’s really a backside screen to Dion Lewis. The Jaguars take the bait on yankee which leaves a ton of room for Lewis to work with along with a convoy of blockers. Credit Leon Jacobs for hustling to track this play down from behind, but I can’t help but think that this is a touchdown if it’s Henry instead of Lewis.
Also, check out Vrabel’s premature touchdown signal on the sideline (spotlighted). He thought Lewis was gone too.
Here’s another version of a screen, this time to Taywan Taylor. Taylor is extremely dangerous after the catch so I was glad to see him get a couple of these looks during the game. He does a nice job here of following his blocks and making a man miss to pick up the first down.
Also, Taylor Lewan absolutely crushes A.J. Bouye again here (the first spotlight) while Quinton Spain puts Malik Jackson down with authority at the end of the play. The offensive line played angry in this game and it was fun to watch.
The Titans passing numbers weren’t great overall. Mariota was an effective 18 of 24 for 162 yards and an interception — simply a bad throw on the run — but could have had a bigger game if a few small things had broken his way. This is one of those plays as Corey Davis has Jaguars rookie Ronnie Harrison roasted on the double move. If Harrison doesn’t (smartly) reach out and grab Davis, this is a 65-yard touchdown that makes both Mariota and Davis’s numbers look quite a bit different.
If you thought I was going to do an All-22 offense without showing a play from rising star tight end Anthony Firkser... well... you were silly for thinking that. Firkser made yet another big play on Thursday and once again it came on a third down and involved a fantastic catch. His season long stats are up to 16 catches on 16 targets for 201 yards and a touchdown. He’s now gone four straight games with at least 3 catches.
This was a 3rd and 8 and the Jaguars came out in a single high man coverage with safety Ronnie Harrison on Firkser. The young tight end quickly wins with a clean release — something he’s consistently flashed during his time here — and then makes a tremendous contested catch on a great ball from Mariota. Harrison’s coverage is actually outstanding here. He even gets his upfield hand right on the ball as they’re going down, but Firkser is able to hang on. He’s very clearly earned Mariota’s trust and now that Jonnu Smith is out, I would expect him to be a big part of the Titans passing game.
The Titans offense as a whole has very clearly gone to another level since their Week 8 bye. Prior to the bye week, they averaged 281 yards and 15.1 points per game. Since the bye week, they’ve averaged 364 yards and 24.2 points per game. That’s a pretty dramatic difference. To be clear, 364 yards and 24 points isn’t exactly great — those numbers would land them around the middle of the pack offensively in 2018’s NFL — but their past two games have statistically been two of their four best offensive performances of the season so things are trending in a good direction.
Feeding Derrick Henry, working the screen game, and finding opportunities to take deep shots with Taywan Taylor and Corey Davis seems to be the recipe for success for this offense. They’ll need to continue to build on that over the last three games if they’re going to slip in to the playoffs for a second straight year.