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How Derrick Henry and Tyjae Spears fare versus heavy boxes

The Tennessee Titans offense is consistently tasked with executing against heavy boxes

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Tennessee Titans v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Tennessee Titans haven’t been quite as run-happy as usual. Through five completed contests, the Titans have an 18th-ranked 126 rushing attempts. That compares to a 27th-ranked 144 passing attempts.

The Titans still operate a run-heavy offense, but there have been changes to Tim Kelly’s approach. One of the biggest changes sees Derrick Henry sharing the backfield with rookie ball-carrier Tyjae Spears. Henry has 86 carries to Spears’ 27, but the snap counts have been closer than those numbers would indicate.

Data collected by Arjun Menon is now telling us how Henry and Spears are faring when facing seven-or-more defenders in the box. Opposing defenses still don’t respect the Titans’ ability to hurt them through the air. They’re focused on slowing down Henry.

78 of Henry’s 86 carries have occurred with seven-plus defenders in the box, according to SIS. Spears has faced such defensive looks on 21 of 27 carries. That means Henry has seen heavy boxes on 90.7% of his carries, with Spears clocking in at 77.8%.

The graph indicates Spears has been significantly more impactful versus heavy boxes.

Spears is averaging 5.8 yards per carry compared to Henry’s pedestrian 3.8 yards per rushing attempt. Henry has forced 16 missed tackles this season and is averaging 3.09 yards after contact per attempt, according to Pro Football Focus. Meanwhile PFF has credited Spears with forcing eight missed tackles. The former Tulane standout is averaging 4.37 yards after contact per attempt, which is 1.28 yards greater than Henry. In the interest of fairness, Spears may benefit from the smaller sample size.

However you interpret these numbers, one outcome is straightforward. The Titans must improve their passing attack to force opposing defenses to respect them vertically. Both Henry and Spears would benefit from playing versus lighter boxes on a more consistent basis.