NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Titans (6-2) felt like they had evaded disaster, beating the Indianapolis Colts (3-5) in overtime 34-31 on the road. Little did they know their greatest adversity would strike in the first quarter of Sunday’s game when Derrick Henry suffered a Jones fracture in his foot, according to reports.
“Next man up” never mattered so much.
Henry was officially put on Injured Reserve on Monday. Tennessee must now find ways to survive and advance. Keeping a three-game lead in the AFC South eases the burden substantially.
Henry going down for however long his recovery process takes does not nuke the Titans season. A game will be played in Los Angeles this coming Sunday night against the Rams, regardless of who is in it.
Replacing the one they call “King” with Adrian Peterson can help patch the wound. Bringing running back D’Onta Foreman in for a second Tennessee tour means it will be a committee approach. The Titans offense under coordinator Todd Downing does not look like it needs to drastically alter their approach.
Adrian Peterson to the Titans
Few players are more individually valuable to their teams than Derrick Henry.
Henry has accounted for 36% of the Titans yards from scrimmage this season, the highest rate for any player on any team, per Paul Hembekides.
“Derrick (Henry) is going to have surgery (on Tuesday),” said coach Mike Vrabel. “We are not going to put a timeline on when he may return. I know he will do everything that he can to work himself back and be able to help this football team.”
Tennessee will not find a player on the market or via trade that can handle the volume and the play style that their star running back brings to the table. If the Titans want someone to fill Henry’s shoes, though, it is hard to find a better stylistic fit than Peterson. Being a productive NFL running back at 36-years old is a nearly impossible feat.
“All Day” may have something to say about what is and is not probable.
In his fourteenth NFL season, Peterson 705 total yards from scrimmage and his team’s third-most (7) touchdowns.
How the Titans offense could change without Henry
To think that Tennessee would dramatically alter their offensive philosophy in Week 9 of the season is foolish.
“We are going to continue to run the ball with whoever is in there,” Vrabel said. We will run our offense. I don’t think anybody wants to sit there and drop back and throw it 45 times a game. We will meet with Todd (Downing) and his staff, we will meet offensively, and we will come up with what we feel like is the best plan. Certainly, don’t want to get into a drop-back passing game (against the Rams).”
GM Jon Robinson’s roster is constructed around Henry but, even as substantial as losing an MVP candidate is, there are ways to piecemeal the Titans rushing attack back together. Foreman, Peterson and third-down back Jeremy McNichols will all have a part to play.
Tennessee leads the NFL in rushing attempts per game (32.5) because of what Henry means to this offense. 27.4 carries per contest is what the Titans lead back was cranking out before being placed on IR. Peterson has never had that kind of volume at any point in his 15-year professional career. The 2008 Minnesota Vikings maxed out Peterson’s carries that season with 22.7 attempts on average.
The four-time first team All-Pro carried only 9.8 times per game with the Detroit Lions last season.
Peterson does not project as the featured player in this new Titans backfield. That role will likely go to Foreman, but could also vary by opponent. The 15-year veteran averaged 1.7 yards after contact per attempt in 2020 with the Detroit Lions. For reference, Henry was averaging 2.0 throughout the course of this season and Foreman racked up 2.2 last season in Tennessee.
Peterson averaged 2.2 yards before contact per attempt last season. Henry this season accounted for 2.3. Among qualified ball carriers on NextGen Stats, Peterson’s average efficiency was 4.04, good for middle of the pack. In a year where Henry became the eighth running back in the history of the sport to reach 2,000 rushing yards, his efficiency rate was 3.57. That figure went up this season to 3.88, good for a spot between Khalil Herbert (3.9) and Sony Michel (3.87).
Translation: Henry and Peterson share similar running styles and the drop-off does not project as drastic.
Foreman’s 107 attempts in 2020 didn’t qualify.
The Titans run the third-most plays on average in the NFL this season at 68.6 per game.
Three overtime contests through Week 8 play a large factor in that, just as it plays a large role in Henry’s unprecedented workload. Tennessee’s offense will be unquestionably worse without Henry’s presence. Everyone who even remotely watches football understands that.
“I think Derrick (Henry) is disappointed,” Vrabel said on Monday. “Everybody is. He feels bad. We spent a lot of time together with the coaching staff and with the players. You never want to see any of them injured in any capacity. I know that Derrick (Henry) is going to work extremely hard to get back to do everything he can to help this football team.”
While the King toils, the Titans will have to embrace life without him.
Featured Image: USA TODAY Sports.