The Tennessee Titans will showcase a new backfield tandem in Miami.
Derrick Henry returns for his third season under a new regime that will not hesitate to feed the towering tailback. Henry’s 2017 workload was an appetizer. He’s hungry for more.
Joining Henry is the shifty Dion Lewis, who spent time contributing both on the ground and as a receiver in a Tom Brady ran offense. Lewis was forced to share carries with a handful of other running backs. His usage correlated to the who the Patriots opponent was, but his production was constant.
Henry is familiar to sharing the backfield, although the 2017 carries should have been more evenly split between he and the ailing DeMarco Murray.
Both backs know the team will find ways to put the backs in the best situation to help the team and be productive within their given skill-sets.
Carries vs Touches
How the workload is divided will be observed Sunday, but I don’t think the split will be consistent on a weekly basis.
The Titans will game plan for their opponents and will use the back that gives the team the best advantage or the ball carrier who could exploit the defenses areas of weakness. There will not be a single game we won’t see both Henry and Lewis finishing with zero carries or touches, but the leader in each category will vary week to week.
Henry will presumably lead the Titans in carries and rushing yards, but Lewis could lead in total touches and total yards from scrimmage.
Both backs will be instrumental in opening up OC Matt LaFleur’s passing game.
Henry brings familiarity with the offensive linemen. He’ll know each lineman’s tendencies a little more than Lewis starting out. Lewis’ football acumen and ability to absorb, process and digest information will help him familiarize himself with his blockers sooner, rather than later.
Lewis’ speed and savvy awareness will help him find and work open space. He is comfortable in playing the role of the safety valve and helped bail out Brady on numerous occasions.
The usage of each back will be calculated and LaFleur will gauge each players first half performance to determine who has the hot hand and who should get the lion’s share of carries after halftime.
D & D vs the Dolphins
So what can we expect from the Henry and Lewis combo in Miami?
A heavy dosage.
Mariota will be given the opportunity to move the ball through the air and occasionally “let it rip”, but the number of reps he’s had with his top two pass catchers Delanie Walker and Rishard Matthews in this new offense cannot be overlooked.
Yes, Mariota is comfortable and can read both Walker and Matthews’ body language, which will help in salvaging some plays that would otherwise be doomed due to miscommunication or unfamiliarity.
However, the established chemistry will only take the offense so far in terms of execution.
Mariota will explore his connection with Corey Davis. Expect LaFleur to call rhythm building plays early. Bubble screens, quick slants and confidence throws will be on the menu early in Miami.
With all that said, expect Henry and Lewis to be a big part of the game plan. Lewis has familiarity in doing damage to the Dolphins, and LaFleur will provide him with opportunities to do so. Henry only had four carries against Miami last season, but in his rookie season he had 7 and went for over 50 yards and added two receptions for 20 yards.
Dennis Kelly will likely get the start, although Jack Conklin being injected into the starting offense would be somewhat of a shocker. Whoever lines up on the right side won’t slow down the offense too much as the Titans will more than likely put their trust in running to the left behind the highest paid offensive lineman, Taylor Lewan.
I don’t expect Mariota to throw the ball 41 times as he has the past two seasons, and part of that is because I think the Titans will lean on the run throughout.
Henry and Lewis are capable of shouldering the offensive load in the Florida heat.