The Tennessee Titans received an unexpected contribution from their hulking running back in Week 14.
Derrick Henryrushed for 238 yards and four -- yes, four -- touchdowns on just 17 carries in a 30-9 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. For a Titans team that has struggled to find a consistent identity in 2018, Henry's stunning show was a welcome sight, and it also kept them right in the thick of the playoff race.
This is becoming a bit of a trend, Henry producing big games in clutch situations for Tennessee late in the regular season, but none were as statistically substantial as this. So how did he do it?
Let's go Behind The O Line to explore.
First off, we must get this out of the way: Derrick Henry is a rare physical specimen. At 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds, Henry is a large linebacker with 4.54-second 40-yard dash speed. He's fast, explosive and extremely difficult to bring down. Physically, think of him as if he's a modern-day Jim Brown, though he doesn't pack the punch as a runner that Brown did.
Instead, Henry is at his best when he is given time to build up steam when carrying the ball. He has deceptively good footwork, which allows him to navigate uncertain paths and make that one decisive cut necessary before bursting through an opening and through second-level defenders.
Allow us to whet your appetite with this run of his for a third-quarter touchdown.
It would have been easy to just state that Henry is best suited as a zone runner, but that's also too simple of a statement. Henry could find success in traditional power and gap schemes, too, provided they're blocked well enough. And Tennessee has the personnel to do so, but turns to the zone because it can be run out of sets that don't require more blockers -- and draw more attention to the box.
That's where Henry struggles, as most do (unless your name is Ezekiel Elliott): against loaded boxes. So the Titans have slogged their way through the season realizing Henry is best suited to run out of non-power sets -- and did so plenty against Jacksonville, running the ball out of 11 or 12 personnel 20 times for 151 yards and three touchdowns (and success rates of 45 percent and 78 percent, respectively). He even ran the Wildcat at one point.
So, back to that play.
Darius Jennings moves in motion from right to left to draw the eyes of linebackers away from the run just before the snap, while all six up front take an initial zone step to the right. Center Ben Jones blocks back to help left guard Quinton Spain with defensive tackle Eli Ankou lined up in a 2i alignment -- essentially directly in the A gap -- which would make for an extremely difficult reach block and runs the risk of blowing up an inside run. Jones and Spain keep Ankou at bay while right guard Josh Kline moves Marcell Dareus out of the desired lane, winning position on him just before Henry trots through the hole.
I say trot because Henry's first eight steps are mainly shuffles and cuts. He doesn't actually start to fully run forward until right around his 10th step, at which point he's past Spain and into the second level -- where Jones has done a great job of swiveling his hips and going from blocking inside to targeting and driving linebacker Myles Jack out of the lane. Suddenly, this path is two levels deep.
Henry also set up Jack to get blocked, believe it or not. After receiving the handoff from Marcus Mariota, Henry plants his left foot in the ground and head fakes to his right before pushing off his next step off his right foot, and into the hole. It sends Jack breaking for the outside in anticipation, only to realize he's been fooled. In doubling back, he's set up perfectly for Jones' block, which then helps Henry build that steam and become nearly impossible to take down as he gallops for a 16-yard touchdown.
We won't bother showing the 99-yard touchdown run, which you've surely seen 10 times by now. Henry leaked out in a big-on-big situation and did the rest of his work in fending off smaller defenders while romping to pay dirt.
Oh, wait -- yes we will. Look at the push up front!
Henry does the majority of the work on this run, yes, but none of it is possible without the way Taylor Lewan manhandled Malik Jackson.
Lewan steps inside to cut off Jackson, who's lined up squarely in the B gap, driving him into a mass of humanity that includes Spain, who was taking care of Jack. Meanwhile, tight ends Luke Stocker and MyCole Pruitt drive Yannick Ngakoue and Smith back a healthy yard, creating the outside escape route for Henry, who takes full advantage of it. You know how the rest of the play unfolds.
When we look at earlier plays, it's easy to see how this could be a big night for Henry. He broke tackles early and often, and Tennessee found success in getting to the second level and creating enough of a crease for Henry to work.
What jumps out from the tape is the Titans' commitment to helping their next man on such zone plays. Some teams give a hand before moving along their path to the next defender, but Tennessee's big fellas will commit a full second to fully blocking a down lineman before departing for their next target. That helps the flow of this play and creates a huge cutback lane for Henry, who then runs through out-of-position would-be tacklers for a gain of 14.
By the second half, the Jaguars were overpursuing left and right. Jack, on the play above, was a culprit, as was the majority of Jacksonville's defense.
Kline helps replacement right tackle Dennis Kelly with the 3 technique aligned over Kline's outside shoulder, taking three quick lateral steps to give a double team before chipping off him to middle linebacker Telvin Smith. The flow up front (and backside split from Corey Davis, who motioned over before cutting back after the snap) gives Jacksonville the proper zone-left read, but again, they overpursue. An unlikely hero in this instance, Stocker, ends up making the key block, squeezing defensive end Dawuane Smooth inside (where he appears he wants to go anyway), eliminating backside contain and allowing Henry a lot of space for a wide cutback. Down the sideline is Davis, who gets enough of defensive back Ronnie Harrison to prevent a tackle. Henry does the rest, again with a head of steam, outrunning the rest of the defense for a touchdown.
Just to prove my earlier point, the Titans found moderate success with traditional schemes late with a big lead. Henry gained 11 and put the Titans on the Jacksonville 3 with no need to score by using two double teams up front to clear space. Henry bounced it outside anyway, the appropriate capper to a night of dominance on the ground.
Can the Titans do this every week? Well, no. First, because Henry as a lead back will draw more defenders and lower his chances of success. Second, because most defenses won't be as eager as Jacksonville played, flirting with the insult of being called "undisciplined" (they were).
But in certain situations reminiscent of last year's playoff win over Kansas City, Henry can find similar success. We won't expect a 99-yard run or 238-yard game, but we can expect a few bigger runs and crushing touchdowns in which he looks nearly unstoppable. The Titans just have to lay the tracks for Henry the Tank Engine to travel down to victory.