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Why Giants defense will struggle to contain Derrick Henry, Titans rushing attack

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Tennessee Titans kick off their 2022 campaign this Sunday against the New York Giants at Nissan Stadium at 3:25 p.m. CST. The Titans will be debuting a new-look offense after undergoing several personnel, and some scheme-related changes in the offseason. All eyes will be on the effectiveness of starting running back Derrick Henry.

Henry managed to total 937 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns via just eight regular-season appearances last season. Certain analysts expect Henry to fall off the proverbial running back cliff this season due to advancing age and a history of heavy workloads. We’re projecting the opposite. Henry and Offensive Coordinator Todd Downing enter Sunday’s debut contest with a clear advantage. The Giants have a sizable hole at middle linebacker I expect Henry and the Titans to expose. They also have injury concerns on the edges of their youth-infused defense.

Giants General Manager Joe Schoen surprisingly released presumed starting middle linebacker Blake Martinez last week. Martinez was viewed as a poor fit for new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s system. Martinez appeared in just three regular-season contests last year before suffering a season-ending torn ACL. Martinez recorded a team-high 151 tackles in 2020. Rookie linebacker Darrian Beavers suffered a season-ending knee injury.

The Giants are extremely thin at inside linebacker. Tae Crowder is the leader of the group. Fellow rookie Micah McFadden (a fifth-round selection out of Indiana) appears in line to start opposite Crowder. Veteran journeyman and former undrafted free agent Austin Calitro is also in the mix. This group is ill-prepared to face the challenge Henry presents.

The Giants are also dealing with two crucial injury concerns. Giants Head Coach Brian Daboll called starting pass rushers Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari “day to day” earlier this week. Both players practiced on Tuesday, which indicates they may be available versus the Titans. Neither player appears 100% healthy, however. Henry and the Titans’ zone-based rushing system could attack the edges of the Giants’ defense.

The Giants had the 25th-ranked rushing defense last season. They allowed opposing offenses to rush for a healthy 129.0 yards per contest. Recent developments indicate improvement may not be easily achieved, even by a new-look Giants defense. This matchup is setting up perfectly for an excellent comeback performance for Henry.