NASHVILLE — When the Tennessee Titans (12-5) host the Cincinnati Bengals (11-7) in the AFC’s divisional round, the first-round bye could pay serious dividends. An extra week of rest and rehabilitation for running back Derrick Henry could give Tennessee more firepower at just the right time.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel will do his best to temper expectations as they get closer to the boiling point.
As Tennessee ramps up for the first game of the NFL’s Elite Eight, Henry’s progress will be monitored closely. The Titans will hold practices on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday ahead of Saturday’s 3:30 PM CT kickoff. Vrabel, GM Jon Robinson and the Tennessee training staff will use the three work days to evaluate Henry’s comfort level on the surgically-repaired foot that has held him out since Week 8.
The deadline to submit NFL transactions to activate Henry before Saturday’s game will be Jan. 21 at 3 PM CT.
Titans will run regardless
But, you already knew that.
The Titans finished the 2021 season with the second-highest percentage of rushing plays (48.63%) in the NFL. In the last three games, the outcomes allowed Tennessee offensive coordinator Todd Downing to lean into that philosophy even more. The Titans ground game played a major role in helping the team close out their division and year with three consecutive wins.
“We are going to need to run the football,” Vrabel said on Monday. “We are going to need to do that to be who we are and be at our best, and not be one-dimensional to be able to run it to set up things and be able to run our offense. That has always been critical.”
Tennessee is better with Henry, obviously. They have found ways to move the football without him.
The Titans upped the rushing snaps to an average of 52.75% in those three straight victories. Downing’s offense racked up 412 yards on 96 attempts (4.29 per) and three touchdowns on the ground. Even with Henry, Tennessee’s rushers have struggled with efficiency all year long with a rushing play success rate good for 24th in the league (37.8%).
Getting Henry healthy and sustaining a good medial stretch for the Titans maligned offensive line will be critical for postseason improvement.
“This will be a big week of practice for us to continue to get Derrick (Henry) back out there,” said Vrabel. “Get him acclimated to run the football and seeing blocking schemes and seeing where guys are and seeing where the cuts are.”
Losing defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi for the season and potentially edge defender Trey Hendrickson (concussion) for the divisional round are the detriments of the Bengals Wild Card Weekend game. Ogunjobi recovered a Derek Carr fumble to set up a Cincinnati field goal in a 26-19 win and was third on the team with 26 pressures. Hendrickson lead the Bengals this season with 53.
A potential Henry return could further brutalize a banged up Cincinnati defense.
Featured Image: USA TODAY Sports.