NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry is having a season for the ages, but he isn’t doing it alone.
The star running back, who deservingly entered league MVP conversations after torching the Jaguars for over 200 yards on Sunday, owes a lot of credit to his quarterback, Ryan Tannehill.
“Ryan’s a problem,” Henry said. “I think teams know that. He’s efficient, he’s accurate. He can pick apart a defense.
“He opens up the run game for us.”
While Henry has undoubtedly been exceptional in his own right, he is correct that Tannehill has made his job easier.
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Defenses can’t sell out to stop Henry because, if they do, they know Tannehill will carve them up.
And Tannehill is far more than the game manager his critics made him out to be heading into the 2020 season. He frequently takes shots down the field and does so with supreme accuracy.
In the red zone, he’s an assassin. His decisiveness and sharp throwing motion make it tough for defenses to keep the Titans out of the end zone when they get inside the 20.
All of that leads to bigger holes for and less focus on the Titans’ best offensive player, Henry.
“When you’ve got a QB with Ryan’s skill set, it helps,” offensive coordinator Arthur Smith said.
The assertion that Tannehill has had a major influence on Henry’s success should not diminish Henry’s accomplishments at all.
Elite QB or not, Henry’s production in 2020 has been remarkable.
He’s likely going to finish the season as the NFL’s leading rusher for the second season in a row, a feat only previously accomplished in the modern era by Hall-of-Famers LaDainian Tomlinson, Edgerrin James, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell and O.J. Simpson.
Jim Brown, for what it’s worth, also accomplished that feat.
And Henry has certainly also impacted Tannehill.
“He brings it each and every week,” Tannehill said.” “He obviously has a rare talent to go along with it, but his drive and his mentality going into each week and the consistency he brings are huge for us.”
Having defenses on their heels because of Henry certainly opens up throwing lanes for Tannehill and takes the focus off of his receivers.
That’s why it’s silly to debate whether Tannehill or Henry is more valuable to the Titans offense. The reality is that, without either of them, the Titans’ offense wouldn’t be nearly as good.
Purely in terms of Henry’s success, though, Tannehill’s influence is undeniable.
Tannehill’s 2020 season, barring catastrophe, will be the best statistical season that a Titans QB has ever had. That includes Steve McNair’s 2003 co-MVP campaign.
In all likelihood, he will become the first QB in team history to throw for 30 touchdowns and the first in franchise history to do it since Hall-of-Famer Warren Moon in 1990.
If Tannehill can wrack up 800 yards over the Titans’ three remaining games, he will become the first QB in team history to pass the 4,000-yard threshold.
Henry may be the engine of the Titans’ offense, but Tannehill is the conductor of the train.
“I think that we all appreciate Ryan, his toughness, his leadership,” head coach Mike Vrabel said. “I go back to when he first got here. He wanted to learn and figure out everything about the offense.
“He has such a comfort level with what we’re doing now, the relationship that he has with the receivers, tight ends, obviously and with Arthur and the offensive staff … I love the way that he prepares and is ready to go each and every week.”
Cover image: Christopher Hanewinckel