Derrick Henry has been carrying the football and the Titans plenty in the playoffs.
His performance has been eye-opening in today’s NFL, in which running backs line up as wide receivers and teams throw the ball far more than they run it. But Henry is more of an old-school running back. You give him the ball over and over and he eventually wears the defense down.
Just ask the Patriots and the Ravens. New England, last year’s Super Bowl champion, and Baltimore, the team that was favored to win the Super Bowl this year, are home because they couldn’t stop the bruising Henry.
Henry has carried the ball 64 times for 377 yards in leading the Titans to Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Chiefs.
“This is me,” Henry said. “I have been doing that since high school.”
Indeed, the 6-3, 245-pound Henry has always been a workhorse.
In his senior year at Yulee High School in Florida, Henry averaged 35.5 carries and 327.8 yards per game and rushed for 55 total touchdowns.
During Henry’s junior year at Alabama, he rushed 46 and 44 times in back-to-back weeks. He led the Crimson Tide to the national championship with a 36-carry, 158-yard, three-touchdown game against Clemson. Henry won the Heisman Trophy that year.
Now Henry will try to run over the Chiefs and help the Titans earn their second Super Bowl berth.
“He’s one of a kind,” Titans center Ben Jones said. “He’s special. It’s an honor to block for a guy like that. We know if we put a hat on a hat, he can go the distance any play. I’m glad he’s on our team.”
Henry, a second-round pick in 2016, has always been able to bounce off or barrel through defenders and break off big runs. His 99-yard touchdown run in 2018 against the Jaguars, after stiff-arming A.J. Bouye and Leon Jacobs, was replayed and talked about so much that even Henry said he was tiring of seeing it.
But Henry wouldn’t mind adding more runs like that, especially if it means he’s hoisting the Lamar Hunt AFC Championship trophy this Sunday and the Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophy on Feb. 2.
The Titans and Chiefs met in Week 10, which ended up being a turning point for Henry and his team.
The Titans were 4-5, and Henry wasn’t putting up big numbers. He had 644 rushing yards and six touchdowns through those nine games. His high game was 100 yards rushing in Week 4 against the Falcons.
Henry ran for 188 yards and two touchdowns, including a 68-yard score, in a 35-32 win over Kansas City. Since then, Henry has averaged 159.1 yards per game, including the playoffs.
He’s rushed for fewer than 103 yards only once, and he captured the rushing title with a 211-yard game in Week 17 against the Houston Texans. Making it more impressive, he didn’t play in Week 16.
“I just focus on doing my job and try to be efficient and try to finish runs and keep moving forward,” Henry said.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel said his team won’t change what it’s done to get to this point. The Chiefs can expect to see a high number of handoffs to Henry with some play-action and occasional deep shots from quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
It will be up to Kansas City to slow down Henry and force the Titans to adjust.
“Henry obviously put together a great season and has done a lot of great things for his team, and they are really leaning on him,” Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “I think the mentality is somebody is going to have to stop him and somebody is going to have to make a tackle on him if we want to get to Miami.
“It is one goal, one objective to win the game, but in order to do that, we know we have to slow down No. 22 — no doubt.”