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.
After a record-setting performance against the Jaguars in Week 14, the Titans rewarded Derrick Henry with the largest workload of his career in Week 15. He responded with a 33-carry, 170-yard, 2-touchdown game that now gives him the highest two-game rushing total in franchise history. It also brings him just 118 yards shy of his first career 1,000 yard rushing season. If next week goes like the last two have, that’s a mark he could pass sometime around the 2nd quarter.
The story of Titans-Giants wasn’t too much different than the story of Titans-Jaguars in Week 14. The Titans overwhelmed New York’s front with a tremendously efficient rushing attack that generated 215 yards on 45 attempts for an average of 4.78 yards per carry. The big difference was that this performance wasn’t carried by huge runs. This was a methodical, consistent effort with a long run of just 22 yards. The Titans dominated this game physically and slowly squeezed the life out of the Giants.
The Titans barely had to throw the ball at all in the windy, rainy, cold conditions and I’m sure that suited Mike Vrabel and Matt LaFleur just fine. When your lead running back is getting at least 5 yards on virtually every carry, there is very little incentive to drop back and throw more than necessary. The Titans clearly went into this game wanting to establish the run and protect the football knowing that points would be at a premium in that weather and they executed that plan to near perfection on Sunday.
Derrick Henry and the offensive line are clicking... and it’s beautiful
Derrick Henry’s dominance hasn’t gone unnoticed by some of the more advanced football analytics outlets. The Titans third year back currently ranks 4th in Sharp Football’s Situational Success Rate metric (behind just Kareem Hunt, Todd Gurley, and Alvin Kamara). He ranks 1st in PFF’s grading for running backs, 2nd in their Elusiveness Rating metric (behind Browns rookie Nick Chubb). Henry tops Football Outsiders DVOA rankings for running backs and is 2nd behind Gurley in Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR).
Prefer traditional stats? Henry is pretty strong in those as well. His 882 yards is up to 11th in the NFL despite having significantly fewer carries than most of the backs above him. His 5.0 yards per carry also checks in at 11th in the league.
Basically, Derrick Henry is playing like an elite level NFL running back right now.
One thing the Titans did a lot of in this game was running out of 11-personnel. Whether that was by design or out of necessity in the wake of Jonnu Smith’s injury is impossible to know, but either way... it worked. The Titans ran the ball 26 times from 11-personnel with a 62% success rate per Sharp Football Stats, the best rate of any personnel package they used in the game.
Here is an example on the very first run of the game. Henry takes the toss and gets a nice reach block from Taylor Lewan, but Quinton Spain isn’t quite able to reach the 3-tech defensive tackle so Henry turns back and uses a great block from Ben Jones to weave back through the defense for a 10-yard gain. Henry’s vision to see this lane and make a big play despite the missed block from Spain is really excellent.
The offensive line has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few weeks. Where the Titans used to struggle with defenses penetrating into the backfield before their backs could get going, now they seem to get getting good push. Here, the entire line executes well. Spain and Lewan kick out their defenders while Jones and Josh Kline get good push on a double team and work to the Mike linebacker. Dennis Kelly does a great job of cutting off the defensive end’s inside slant and walling him off. The hole isn’t huge by any means, but Henry has time to pick and weave his way through and then push the pile for a solid 6-yard pickup.
This is an example of a larger hole opened by both the play design and offensive line. The Titans had hit the Giants early with a few of these toss plays so this time they dial up a toss counter. The toss action gets the defense flowing and the rest of the work is done by Dennis Kelly and Luke Stocker. Stocker puts his man on the ground while Kelly blocks a defensive end all the way outside the numbers. That leaves just Derrick Henry and a defensive back by themselves in a 10-yard wide hole. That’s going to be a battle that Henry wins 9 times out of 10 and he does here with ease.
Dennis Kelly was PFF’s highest graded tackle in the NFL this week and it’s plays like this that helped earn him that recognition. He was an absolute mauler in the running game. Here he takes a slanting defensive end and bullies him all the way across the field to help clear a cutback lane for Henry.
Henry also got a big block from an unexpected source in this game as Marcus Mariota absolutely de-cleated linebacker Alec Ogletree on a run from the Wild Tractor package. Before we get to the block though, this was a great individual effort by Henry. He’s so good at shedding tackles with that vicious stiff arm, especially when he’s running around left end. This time he doles out three stiff arms before finally being dragged down from behind.
The Mariota block is without a doubt the most physical block I’ve ever seen from an NFL quarterback. He’s really just supposed to be standing idly by the sideline on this play, but once Henry starts bouncing towards his side, Mariota starts looking for work and finds it in Ogletree. He lays a great shot on the linebacker and helps spring his running back for some extra yardage. I know that some hate this play because he threw his throwing shoulder in to Ogletree, but at least part of you has to love the competitive nature and the fearlessness that he showed here. I’m sure his teammates did.
Mariota’s blocking ability aside, he also influences defenses with his legs. This read option out of the pistol is incredibly tough to defend. The Giants had been getting worked in the middle of the defense by Henry and the natural reaction is to start to overpursue. That’s exactly what Olivier Vernon (No. 54) and Alec Ogletree (No. 52) do here. They both collapse down on Henry’s dive and never even see Mariota sneak the ball out and keep it around the end for a nice gain. The Titans personnel gives them the chance to do so many different things in the running game and it seems like Matt LaFleur is now starting to figure out how all those pieces fit together best.
The Titans found a lot of running room on the left side as usual during this game. Here, Stocker and Lewan both do a great job of sealing a lane and Henry is able to press the line, make a nice lateral cut, and then burst upfield. Henry’s foot quickness and vision are usually the two things that his detractors come after him about, but this is a great example of both at aspects being executed at a very high level.
Here’s another run over the left side. This is an outside zone run, the play that is supposed to be the bedrock of this offense. The Titans have really struggled to get this play working in 2018, but the past few weeks we’ve seen some major progress. It starts here with Lewan who reaches and turns the playside defensive end and then drives him 12 yards downfield. Stocker does a great job of helping Lewan for just a split second before kicking out the linebacker. Spain and Jones also do an excellent job of combining to hook the nose tackle and the Mike linebacker. This is how blocking should look for outside zone and Henry takes advantage of it with a sharp, decisive cut up field.
If you haven’t read Jim Wyatt’s outstanding piece on the conversations between Derrick Henry and Titans legend Eddie George that Henry credits with helping inspire this great run of play, please do yourself a favor and click here. Among the many comments that George made about Henry’s game was that he had a habit of stopping his feet after contact. That’s gone away since the bye week. Just focus Henry’s feet during this run, especially when he gets into traffic and makes contact with the defenders. He’s driving his legs and chopping his feet the whole way, creating another 4-5 yards out of the smallest of creases in the defense.
This is another great run from Henry. Look at how quickly he eats up yards once he gets north and south after the handoff. He’s helped here by a phenomenal combination block from Kelly and Kline on the right side. Kelly shoves the 3-tech all the way to the opposite hash while Kline peels off and takes out the Mike backer who is trying to knife inside.
Henry’s lateral quickness has always been somewhat underrated. It’s the primary reason he’s able to get to the edge so often. That’s exactly what he does here. Kline gets beat inside, but Henry is able to react and explode outside (with an assist from a nice Corey Davis block). From there, Henry is in his element using his speed and stiff arm to turn this in to a big gain.
Here, again, is that ability to get to the edge from Henry. This time he gets some help from the entire right side of the Titans offense. Kelly rides the slanting defensive end inside, using his momentum against him. Luke Stocker (spotlighted) absolutely deletes the blitzing corner while Tajae Sharpe and Corey Davis both pin defenders inside with nice blocks. Again, Henry ends up one-on-one with a corner and that’s virtually an automatic win for the Titans.
The Titans have been excellent recently on these designed windback runs out of a zone look. It’s a design that punishes defenses for overpursuing to try to take away the outside zone and the Titans have done a nice job of mixing these in to keep defenses off balance in recent weeks. Henry doesn’t have a clean hole here. There’s a lot of clutter, but he does a great job of weaving through traffic and creates a big run out of virtually nothing.
Sidenote: Anthony Firkser jumping out of the way to avoid getting run over by Henry is really funny.
Corey Davis has had a really nice season. He needs 202 yards over the last two games to reach the 1,000 yard mark and I hope he gets there, but even if he doesn’t, he’s shown incredible progress in his second season. One aspect of his game that doesn’t really get enough credit all the time is his blocking. He is one of the best blocking receivers in the NFL right now and that does matter. He had key blocks on both of Henry’s touchdown runs. Here’s the first one as the Titans essentially use him as an H-back on this play. Davis’ blocking ability allows the team to dictate a lighter personnel package from the defense and then take advantage of it with their 250 pound back.
Here’s Davis on Henry’s second TD. Watch him manhandle Giants safety Michael Thomas here to let Henry get a one-on-one matchup against the corner in space. Every time an offensive player finishes his block in the endzone, an angel gets it’s wings.
Davis’ blocking ability combined with Lewan’s athleticism and Henry’s ability out on the edge make “crack toss” one of the most lethal playcalls in Matt LaFleur’s arsenal. Here’s an example. Davis and Darius Jennings are pinning the Giants edge defenders which allows Lewan to pull and get on the move. Davis doesn’t get his best block on this play, but the work from Lewan and MyCole Pruitt is outstanding. If Davis gets a better piece of B.J. Goodson (No. 93), this is probably a house call for Henry. Expect to see more of this play over the next couple weeks.
The Titans offensive line seems to really be getting comfortable in the zone blocking scheme at this point. Here’s an outside zone run from Dion Lewis late in the game. Lewan and Spain decimate the Giants defensive end and linebacker on the playside while Jones is able to reach and pin the nose tackle. That, combined with an OUTSTANDING Darius Jennings block downfield, create a ton of running room for Lewis who scoots through for a nice gain.
The Titans run game has been a beautiful thing to watch over the past two and a half weeks and it’s not as if their opponents have been the dregs of NFL run defenses. The Jets, Jaguars, and Giants are all in the middle of the pack when it comes to yards per carry allowed. The Titans seem to have the run game clicking for the first time all season and it couldn’t have come at a better time.