We at Music City Miracles have written plenty of articles on how miserable of a combo Mike Mularkey and Terry Robiskie were in 2017, and we’d like to think the same is true for any other site that covers the Titans, really. Much has been made about how the two suffocated Marcus Mariota last year, but it wasn’t just limited to him.
DeMarco Murray was horrible last year, with a massive step down in quickness and power. The Titans were still giving him carries over Derrick Henry. Henry is entering his third season in the NFL and will be featured along with newcomer Dion Lewis from New England in the backfield. He had 744 yards and 4.2 yards per carry, as well as game-by-game yards per carry numbers that seemed to go all over the place.
Some of his roller coaster numbers were contributed by him.
Henry is known through NFL circles as an aggressive sideline runner, not just in terms of athleticism but also in terms of mindset. When he gets the ball, many times he is thinking sideline. Some times that works, other times you get the play above.
Henry completely ignores the wide open gap in front of him (when the GIF goes to slow motion) in favor of going towards the sideline. He gets five yards on this play when he likely would’ve gotten more if he cut towards the Michael Strahan gap.
However, it can be argued that because of how limited the Titans’ play calling was, Henry didn’t have any other choice but to try and work the sidelines. On several plays it was apparent he was doing his best to try and make something happen when it was clear the play was dead.
Mike Mularkey’s scheme required everything to be perfect, but unless the Aaron Rodgers of (insert position on offense) is everywhere, it’s not going to work. A more up-to-date play caller would at least add misdirection to the mix so that if a linemen messes up, it’s not going to affect the core of the play.
That doesn’t happen here. Of course, Henry only makes it worse by backpedaling to try and get something going. He hesitates after cutting outside, steps back, and tries to get further outside, but only finds himself in a bigger trap.
Henry had some fault with two of the plays above, but the next play was not his fault.
Henry faced loads of defenders in the box throughout his sophomore season, and Mularkey/Robiskie did not make it any easier by calling straightforward running plays with zero misdirection and little creativity. And in the rare chance there was creativity involved, it came in the form of an ill-conceived trick play that would leave audiences scratching their heads trying to process what even happened.
The Titans offensive line is solid, but it’s not on the level of, say, the Eagles or Steelers. You can get this to work with either offense, but here requires some help. There is none. The box defenders completely overwhelm the offensive line and Henry, who tries his best but can’t escape tacklers.
Fortunately for Henry, the Titans not only got rid of the incompetence by firing Mularkey and Robiskie, but they also let go of Murray to ensure Henry would be granted a bigger role in the offense. With new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur running a more diverse scheme (we assume), there is hope that Henry will be able to salvage the inconsistent numbers he had from 2017.
The Titans have good reason for their faith in Henry; He is a very talented and explosive runner that at his peak is quite exceptional. It just needs to be realized in a better scheme.
I mentioned how Henry’s tendency to work outside can backfire, but it’s also a strength of his. He has terrific ability to make deep cuts and has great speed running outside. He’s a bit like Devonta Freeman in that regard. On this play, he puts his talents to the test, as he’s able to escape tacklers from the middle and makes his own yardage.
By pairing Henry up with Dion Lewis, the Titans have two backs that can make defenders miss in different ways. Lewis does so with his elusiveness, Henry does so with his power. When you put him out in space, as shown above, good luck tackling him. He’s basically a back that is designed to wear defenses out because of how consistently he’s churning his legs, so his stamina is very reliable.
When comparing him to one of LaFleur’s other backs, Todd Gurley, Henry is not as complete of a player. He’s had little involvement as a pass catcher (then again, so did Gurley before 2017), and few backs can do what Gurley does. But Henry still has potential to break out in his third season because of how well rounded he is as a runner.
Similar to Gurley, Henry’s speed when changing the direction of his run is breathtaking. He’s built to maul defenders in space, as shown on the play above. He pushes off his left foot once he sees a gap, allowing him to build up acceleration to get him outside the next defensive back. He then performs a spin move to pick up a little more yardage, then breaks yet another tackle to get a total of 12 hard earned yards on the play.
Derrick Henry tends to polarize people, but we can all agree Mularkey gave him a raw deal last year with how lacking the run game’s play calling was. Sure, he can be hesitant, he can work the sidelines when he doesn’t need to. But I think his overall talent can make up for those flaws, and if LaFleur is everything the Titans hope for and then some, he can fix those issues for good.
Could Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis be one of the league’s best backfields? We’ll find out sooner than later, but by bringing in LaFleur, the Titans at least realize they need a more modern offense to help the players thrive. If Henry can play more consistently, it’s not that far off to expect some pretty big numbers from the third-year back.