Tennessee Titans working again Derrick Henry is the closing American muscle automobile. He’s massive, speedy, robust, a bit of intimidating and undeniably retro-cool. However he’s now not very sensible, and in spite of appearances, he’s most definitely now not constructed to closing.
Henry rushed for two,027 yards this season, the fifth-highest general in N.F.L. historical past. He changed into the second one working again to eclipse 2,000 speeding yards since Chris Johnson of the Titans in 2009 and Adrian Peterson in 2012, and is simply the 8th participant in league historical past to achieve that milestone. Henry led or tied for the lead in rushes, yards and speeding touchdowns for the second one consecutive season in 2020.
Henry’s accomplishments turn into much more exceptional on nearer exam. He rushed for 1,268 yards on first downs on my own; that manufacturing on its own would have allowed him to complete 3rd within the N.F.L. in general speeding yards. Henry ran for 710 yards in his ultimate 4 video games, together with 250 yards because the Titans clinched the A.F.C. South with a 41-38 victory over the Houston Texans, reinforcing his recognition for buying more potent because the season wears on. Professional Soccer Center of attention credit Henry with a league-high 77 eluded tackles on working performs; Henry “eludes” maximum tacklers by way of tossing them out of the saloon just like the hero of a wild West serial, however that also counts.
Henry rushed for 446 yards in closing yr’s playoffs, propelling the Titans to dissatisfied victories over the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots sooner than the Kansas Town Chiefs got here again to defeat them for the A.F.C. championship. Simplest 4 different working backs rushed for extra yards than Henry in one postseason, and 3 of them — Terrell Davis in 1997 and 1998, Marcus Allen in 1983, John Riggins in 1982 — at the moment are Corridor of Famers, due largely to their playoff and Tremendous Bowl heroics. (Titans nice Eddie George used to be the opposite, in 1999).
A equivalent efficiency this yr may vault the Titans into the Tremendous Bowl and Henry onto a brief checklist of all-time legends.
Sadly, strategic tendencies, analytics precepts and historical past itself don’t seem to be on Henry’s facet.
Henry’s luck flies within the face of contemporary N.F.L. knowledge. He’s a workhorse in a pass-happy league which has decided that sharing carries amongst a committee is extra environment friendly, sustainable and inexpensive than force-feeding even probably the most bold rusher. Henry rushed 378 instances all the way through the common season, the easiest general since DeMarco Murray rushed 392 instances for the 2014 Dallas Cowboys. Two or 3 working backs every season generally earned 350-plus carries from the 1980s during the early 2000s. Simplest 3 rushers (Henry, Murray and Arian Foster in 2012) have crossed that threshold within the closing decade.
Henry’s heavy workload makes him a possible sufferer of the feared Curse of 370, an analytics theory popularized by way of Soccer Outsiders within the mid-aughts. Analysis means that 370 or extra carries in a single season generally lead to accidents or steep decline the next season. Murray, for instance, fell to only 702 yards in 2015 after his high-mileage 2014 season. Historical past is plagued by different examples (and scant counterexamples) of rushers whose careers have been curtailed by way of overuse, lots of whom have been considered exempt from the “curse” given their greatness, fortitude, determination, and so forth.
(The truth that utilization declined on the identical time that the Curse of 370 won publicity is infrequently a twist of fate. N.F.L. resolution makers act like highschool difficult guys relating to analytics, shouting “Math is for nerds!” at information meetings, then whispering asks for all of the take a look at solutions.)
Henry’s rugged taste best compounds considerations about his workload. Most current working backs double as receivers, permitting them to paintings the sidelines and take in fewer hits in opposition to smaller defenders. Henry hammers the center of the sector like a 1970s working again, turning each and every Sunday right into a demolition derby. It’s a refreshing exchange of tempo in a league that has strayed a ways from its muddy roots, and Henry surely catches some defenders off guard by way of opting to run directly via them as an alternative of round them. However between the carries and the collisions, Henry has voided the phrases of his carrier guaranty and is beginning to tempt destiny.
Each and every era produces one or two working backs who greenback each and every statistical development, shrug off grueling workloads and stay efficient neatly after their odometers turn: Adrian Peterson, Frank Gore, LaDainian Tomlinson, Curtis Martin, Eric Dickerson, Allen, Riggins and a couple of others. Henry might be a kind of backs. On the other hand, Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell and lots of different contemporary rushers seemed to be indestructible twelve months and their manufacturing fell off the following season, in lots of circumstances quickly once they signed profitable long-term contracts.
The Titans signed Henry for 4 years and a reported $50 million in July. Regardless of his present excellence, there’s a excessive chance that they’re going to finish up paying to have Henry towed to the scrapyard in a yr or two.
For now, then again, the Titans are depending on Henry to as soon as once more drag them during the playoffs. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s crisp passing reduces Henry’s burden to a point, however the Titans protection completed 24th within the league in issues allowed and 28th in yards allowed.
On Sunday, Tennessee will face a Baltimore Ravens group that scored 186 issues in its closing 5 video games. They are going to want Henry to stiff-arm weary defenders and hammer house touchdowns to win that doable shootout but in addition to have a prayer in opposition to the Kansas Town Chiefs and/or the Buffalo Expenses in later rounds.
Henry will have to do no matter it takes to muscle the Titans method into the Tremendous Bowl this yr, as a result of historical past warns that they’re going to now not get many extra possibilities.