Derrick Henry’s return is crucial to Ryan Tannehill, the Tennessee Titans’ attack

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – If all goes according to plan, the next time the Tennessee Titans take the field, fans will once again sing, “HEN-RY! HEN-RY!”

Titans running back Derrick Henry is expected to be back in action at Nissan Stadium when No. 1 seeded Tennessee opens its playoff run after earning the AFC farewell in the wildcard round.

The Titans appointed Henry, who missed the last nine games with a broken foot, to return to training from injured reserve on January 4, giving them 21 days to add him to the 53-man big list.

Although he has not seen any fighting action since Oct. 31, Henry will have an impact as soon as he puts on a Titans jersey.

“Derrick is a hell of a player,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “Every time we can get him back out here and work and work his way out and compete with us, it’s going to be huge for us.”

Before his injury, Henry led the NFL with 219 carries for 937 yards and 10 touchdowns through eight games. He finished sixth in the league in rushing touchdowns and ninth in rushing yards, though he missed the rest of the regular season.

Tennessee had a record of 6-2 before Henry was injured. The Titans’ winning formula was simple: Keep feeding him.

“The balance is wins and losses,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said in October. “That’s the scale I’re trying to keep the balance. Getting Derrick Henry to the ball gives us a better chance of winning.”

Downing promised to avoid “Jerking the wheel” on the attack when Henry went down. It was his way of saying he would stick to the race.

The haunting attack remained solid without Henry as the Titans went 6-3 without him.

D’Onta Foreman’s 133 carries, 566 yards and 3 touchdowns led a committee that included Adrian Peterson, Dontrell Hilliard and Jeremy McNichols.

They combined for 223 carries for 1,036 yards and 6 touchdowns. But the offensive lacked a real, consistent home-run threat.

Henry’s return brings back one of the team’s most explosive players.

Foreman and Hilliard came together in five rushing attempts that got 20 or more yards, including Hilliard’s 68-yard touchdown run against the New England Patriots.

By comparison, Henry alone got three of his tackles for 20 or more yards, including a game-changing 76-yard touchdown run in the Titans’ 34-31 win over the Buffalo Bills and another 60-yard touchdown in the Tennessee 33-30 win over Seattle Seahawks.

Since joining the NFL in 2016, Henry’s 44 scrimmage games that have gone in at least 20 yards are number seven among all running backs, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Henry has 16 scrimmage games it resulted in at least a 40-yard win, tying him up with the New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley for the most part over the same span.

In short, Henry changes how defenses try to stop the Titans.

Opposing teams will sometimes put eight in the box to try to stop him. But well-executed blocks, along with Henry’s ability to get yards after contact and accelerate from defense, lead to long touchdown runs.

Stacking the box also opens up passing lanes for Tannehill when the Titans use play-action because Henry greatly influences linebackers who are forced to respect his rushing abilities.

Tannehill’s game-action passing numbers in 2019 and 2020 with Henry in the backfield have been impressive. According to ESPN Stats & Information, in 2019 Tannehill completed 76.9% of his passing attempts in 1,353 yards and 12 touchdowns outside of play-action. Tannehill had an average of 12.53 yards per game. try that season.

Last season, Tannehill completed 62% of his passes in 1,618 yards and 11 touchdowns on play-action, and he averaged 9.46 yards per game. experiments.

Henry has a week of training under his belt and is working with head coach Frank Piraino to get his fitness up to level. Nothing can replicate reps that come in fights, so it remains to be seen how much Henry will be able to handle in his first fight back.

Tennessee has found success with Foreman and Hilliard, which should not force the Titans to run Henry too much in his return.

But the Titans are a team that will go with the warm hand on game day.

If Henry gets in a groove, they will probably keep feeding him. It will allow them to play the physical football style that steadily grinds against opposing defenses as a constant stream of water erodes rocks.

“One thing that has always amazed me about Derrick Henry was that it seemed like the more he got the ball, the better he played,” said Nick Saban, who coached Henry in Alabama before the 2020 season in a radio program . “When he gets the ball, the more he gets it, the better he runs it. I do not know if it is a self-confidence with him. I do not know if it is because he is so big, strong and physical that it just slides the other guys down. “

Henry’s playoff performance in the 2019 season was one of the times as he finished with 446 rushing yards. He became the first player in NFL history to run over 175 yards or more in back-to-back games as he led the Titans to the AFC Championship game.

But given that last season was a bitter ending – as the Baltimore Ravens held Henry to 40 yards on 18 carries and beat the Titans ’20-13 win in the wildcard round of the playoffs – the Titans’ star could get an extra bit of motivation.

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