Do…do the Titans have the best running back in the NFL? It may seem like a question based on recency bias after three weeks of dominant Derrick Henry games, but it’s a question that needs to be addressed.
Henry has rushed for 496 yards on 68 carries (7.29 yards/carry) and five touchdowns over the last three games. Just for a reference, that’s a 16-game pace of 2,645 yards and 27 touchdowns. Yes, Ryan Tannehill has been the focal point in the Titans’ recent resurgence, especially in the national media’s eyes, but it’s no coincidence that the Titans’ turnaround has coincided with Henry returning to elite form.
I’ll talk a little more about Henry here in a second, but I want to briefly look at something that Titans’ fans may be a bit nervous to think about: playoff chances. After the win in Indianapolis on Sunday, the Titans’ playoff chances, according to FiveThirtyEight, jumped from 23 percent to 42 percent. A win this week in Oakland, another team who’s vying for the final AFC Wild Card spot, would bump that percentage up to 56 percent. I could go on, but I encourage you to go to FiveThirtyEight’s NFL playoff predictor yourself and mess around with the outcomes.
It’s an exciting time in Nashville and having meaningful football games in December is a luxury Titans’ fans haven’t seen too many times over the last two decades. So let’s talk about this week’s meaningful game, shall we?
Tennessee Titans (-3) @ Oakland Raiders
Game Time: 3:25pm CST
Location: Oakland, CA (Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum)
TV Broadcast Crew: Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Melanie Collins
Radio: Titans Radio, 104-5 The Zone
Radio Broadcast Crew: Mike Keith, Dave McGinnis, Amie Wells, Jonathan Hutton, Rhett Bryan
Over/ Under: 47.5
Stat Corner with Matt:
I would like to formally apologize to Derrick Henry for taking this long to feature him in Stat Corner. I know he’s been anxiously waiting to see his name pop up in this segment, and I like to think his recent play is his way forcing his way in.
So, you’re welcome Titans’ fans.
Like I said in the intro, Henry has been running like a mad man the last three games. His performances have vaulted most of his stats into the top five in the NFL among running backs with at least 100 carries. Only Nick Chubb of the Browns and Christian McCaffrey of the Panthers have more rushing yards than Henry this season, but a juicy matchup against the Raiders’ lackluster rushing defense (26th in rush defense DVOA according to Football Outsiders) could make for another big day for Henry.
|Player||Yards (Rank)||Yds/Att (Rank)||TDs (Rank)||Yds After Contact|
|Henry||1,140 (3)||4.9 (T-8)||11 (3)||953|
|McCaffrey||1,167 (2)||5.0 (5)||12 (1)||454|
|Chubb||1,175 (1)||4.9 (T-8)||7 (8)||666|
The Titans’ offensive line has taken some heat this year, and rightfully so. The pass protection has been lackluster all year, allowing a league-leading 49 sacks through 13 games. But for as bad as they’ve been in pass protection, they’ve been just as good in the run game, and a majority of Henry’s success has been to the right side behind Jack Conklin and Nate Davis. According to SharpFootballStats, 64 percent of Henry’s runs off the right tackle position have resulted in “successful runs” (the league average is 45 percent). In comparison, runs behind the left tackled position have resulted in successful runs 42 percent of the time for Henry.
Now that I’ve thoroughly put you to sleep, I’ll wrap it up. The general theme is this: Derrick Henry has stiff-armed his way to being a top-5 NFL running back. The potential for this level of play has been there since the Titans drafted him in 2016, but we’ve only seen flashes of it for the last four seasons. We’re starting see it on a week-to-week basis, and defenses should be scared to see this 238-pound train rolling towards them.
3 Things to Watch:
–The Injury Bug: After staying pretty injury free for most of the season, the Titans have seemed to catch the injury bug over the last few weeks, specifically at the cornerback position. Malcolm Butler was lost a few weeks ago to a fractured arm, and this week they’ll be without Adoree Jackson and LeShaun Sims. That means for the second week in a row, the Titans will see a heavy dose of Tye Smith and Kareem Orr. The Raiders’ receivers haven’t been the most productive position group most of the year, but Tyrell Williams and Darren Waller (who is a tight end but lines up out wide sometimes) will have an opportunity to work against 3rd and 4th string cornerbacks.
-Landry Stays Hot: I talked about him last week, but Harold Landry has progressed in his second year out of college and has become the Titans’ best pass rush option. If he records a sack this week, he’ll be the first Titans player since Jevon Kearse with a sack in six straight games. That’s not bad company to be keeping. The Raiders’ best offensive lineman Trent Brown is out this week, so Landry should have every opportunity to extend his streak.
-Josh Jacobs: The Titans aren’t the only team in this game with a stud running back. Jacobs is No. 5 in rushing yards with 1,061 and has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in five games this season. The Raiders offense runs through the rookie from Alabama, so slowing him down needs to be the Titans top priority. He’s listed as questionable on the injury report with a shoulder injury, but Jacobs came out earlier this week and said he’s been playing through a shoulder fracture since Week 7, so expect Jacobs to be out there on Sunday with the Raiders trying to keep their playoff hopes alive.
My Prediction: Raiders 23, Titans 20
I’m sorry Titans fans. This games just seems like a classic trap game. The Titans are favored. The game is on the west coast. Oakland has been outscored 74-12 over the last two games. The Titans play division-leader Houston next week. Sounds exactly like a game the Titans would lose. Now, I’ve spent the last two weeks saying this team feels different than past teams, but I’m just not in a place emotionally to let myself believe this team will take care of business and head into next week with a chance to take the outright lead of the AFC South.