NASHVILLE, Tenn. ⏤ Against Seattle on Sunday, Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry was an elite, unstoppable force.
He turned 41 touches into 237 total yards and three touchdowns, including a game-changing 60-yard scamper in the fourth quarter.
How did his teammates react to such an unbelievable showing? “Meh.”
“I don’t think there is any amazement,” QB Ryan Tannehill said. “He has proven what he can do, and he goes out and does it.”
Henry, the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year, has been so consistently dominant that performances like the one he delivered on Sunday are no longer astonishing⏤they’re expected.
And here’s what’s scary about Henry: he may be getting even better.
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) September 23, 2021
At no point in his career, outside of an occasional big screen pass, has Henry been a difference-maker in the passing game, but that changed on Sunday.
Henry served as a reliable checkdown option for Tannehill, catching a career-high six passes for 55 yards.
The superstar running back’s impact in the passing game extended beyond the passes he caught, however.
Henry also excelled as a pass protector, repeatedly helping Tannehill stay upright amidst intense pressure and allowing him to take shots downfield.
“We had some huge passing plays because Derrick put a good block on the safety underneath,” Tannehill said.
While Henry’s big impact as a receiver on Sunday likely will prove to be somewhat of an anomaly, as most of his receptions against Seattle were thanks to a lack of short-area coverage, his improvement as a pass protector could serve the Titans very well moving forward.
Any time Henry is on the field, the defense is forced to key in on him because of his explosive, playmaking ability in the run game. That’s a major advantage for the Titans’ offense, even if they don’t give Henry the ball.
In previous seasons, though, the Titans have been forced to take Henry off of the field on many third downs because other backs on the team, notably RB Jeremy McNichols, were more reliable pass protectors.
If Henry can continue to be reliable in picking up blitzes, the Titans will be able to use him on an even greater percentage of their offensive snaps.
Additionally, with the Titans’ offensive scheme being so heavily reliant on play-action, Henry has plenty of opportunities to block defenders who bite on the run fake.
He took advantage of those chances against Seattle, and he will increase his value for the Titans even more if he continues to do so.
“A lot of times in our play-action protections, it’s going to take the back picking up someone who bit on the play fake, and Derrick did that multiple times,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said.
“Him being able to step up in there firmly and pick up blitzers is critical to our play-action pass.”
It sounds like pure craziness to think that an elite player on a Hall-of-Fame career track has managed to step his game up and increase his value in his sixth NFL season, but it looks like that’s exactly what Henry is in the process of doing.
Cover image: Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today