If you’re playing the Tennessee Titans, you know what you’re getting. Offensive coordinator Arthur Smith didn’t have to get too creative last season, particularly late in the year during the Titans’ run to the AFC Championship Game. It was the Derrick Henry show.
The 6-3, 240 pound back was built for January football, seemingly getting stronger as the season went on. Henry powered through the final few games of the regular season, then ran over the Patriots and the Ravens while handling a ridiculous amount of work.
The crazy part is, opponents knew what was coming. In a day and age that routinely sees 400 yard passing performances, Tennessee threw it back to a smashmouth attack that saw success even against stacked boxes. In a stat from Pro Football Focus, it was determined that Henry faced the most eight man boxes in the league, by far.
188 rushing attempts against eight in the box for Henry led the way by a good margin over Dalvin Cook, who had 147. Sony Michel and Leonard Fournette were next.
Carries with 8+ defenders in the box in 2019:— PFF (@PFF) June 30, 2020
1. Derrick Henry: 188
2. Dalvin Cook: 147
3. Sony Michel: 134
4. Leonard Fournette: 132 pic.twitter.com/D8hep8jH7o
Henry ended up with 303 carries in total on the season, running for 1,540 yards and 16 touchdowns. That’s 5.1 yards per carry, despite those loaded boxes he routinely faced.
The big question remains, is this attack sustainable? Obviously you have to get production from Ryan Tannehill to open up more holes for Henry. To his credit, he did just that during the regular season. Tannehill cashed in on a second chance as an NFL starter, throwing for over 2,700 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2019. Tennessee quickly morphed into a potent offense after handing the keys over to Tannehill, but that approach changed in the postseason — for good reason.
The reason, of course, was Henry and the offensive line’s hot streak. It’s unrealistic to think that they can do that for an entire season in 2020, though. Henry isn’t going to be handling 30 carries per game over the course of a 16 game season. At some point, the passing attack will have to win you football games. Tannehill proved capable of doing that in the regular season in 2019, but came up short in Kansas City against Patrick Mahomes in January.
Now entering year two in the system and going through an offseason as the starting quarterback, it’s going to be interesting to see what kind of headway Tannehill and Arthur Smith can make.