The Kansas City Chiefs holding Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook under his season rushing yards average one week ago did not fool the Tennessee Titans. There is no defense in the NFL that allows running backs to do as much damage as does the Chiefs defense.
And the Titans understood that.
“We knew coming into this game that that’s what we wanted to do — we wanted to get Derrick (Henry) going,” said Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill. “We wanted to try to eat the clock up, stay on the field and keep it running. We struggled at times doing that, and then sometimes in the game we did a really good job with that. When we get Derrick going, that’s a good thing for us. The offensive line, obviously, creating the holes for him, but then he’s just a big, strong, tough runner who does a great job of getting downhill and getting tough yards for us. He not only does that, but then he has the speed to take it to the house once you give him a lane. I think he broke two or three tackles on that before, and then having the speed.”
122 of Derrick Henry's 188 rushing yards came with the Chiefs in their base defense, at an average of 11.09 yards per rush. https://t.co/dYSkWxsCca— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) November 11, 2019
Henry, who had 156 rushing yards in the Chiefs’ wild-card round playoff loss just two seasons ago, bested that effort on Sunday with 188 yards on the ground and two touchdowns — a 68-yard score to give Tennessee a 20-19 lead in the third quarter and a 1-yard rush to get them within two points in the fourth quarter.
“I knew that this was going to be a game that we had to control the tempo and the ball because they can score so fast when the ball’s in their hands on offense,” said Henry. “They’ve got so many weapons, so I feel like if we were able to control the ball, we were able to move the line of scrimmage, have efficient runs, continue to be physical, me just doing my job and I felt like we had a great chance to win this game. I feel like the O-line, tight ends, receivers, they did a great job blocking. I just had to go out there and do my job.”
Defensive lineman Mike Pennel, who the Chiefs signed in late October and has played well against the run the past two games, was inactive. Linebacker Reggie Ragland, who appeared to have a resurgence the past few weeks — especially against the run — only saw 34% of the defensive snaps.
The Titans were so confident in their ability to run against the Chiefs, they did so eight times when they down two scores in the fourth quarter.
“We felt like we kind of had them on the ropes a little bit putting some tempo on them,” added Tannehill. “Up front, our guys just doing a great job giving Derrick lanes, and Derrick was running hard. Once that momentum started going, you’ve just kind of got to ride that wave and keep that pressure on him.”
Asked about Henry, the Chiefs said they were aware of his ability to wreck the game but just couldn’t do anything about it.
“We definitely came into the game trying to slow him down,” said Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen. “He breaks a long one on us, but I think – again, it goes back to the details and everybody just being sound, and I think we had a pretty good game plan. Just a couple plays here and there that we need to execute better.
Henry only ran for 48 yards in the first half, but the Titans stuck to their game plan, and that measure paid dividends in the end.
“It was not easy early, like a lot of games,” said Titans head coach Mike Vrabel. “But our ability to stick with it there in the second half really made the difference when we were able to pound out 10, 12-yard runs, and then ultimately watching those guys leave the game, or be on a knee, or be tired, or banged up and then walk in the end zone.”
And the Titans ran — or in Vrabel’s words — walked their way to a 35-32 victory.