As the Kansas City Chiefs continued their preparation for Sunday’s AFC championship game at Arrowhead Stadium, on Wednesday afternoon, head coach Andy Reid and some of his players took their turns answering questions from the news media.
In a somewhat radical departure from the usual procedure — especially in the postseason — questions about the opponent’s quarterback didn’t come up.
But there were a lot of questions about Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry.
”He’s like Eddie George,” said the head coach. “He and Eddie are similarly sized — this kid might even be bigger than Eddie. Both are big, strong backs that can run fast. You look at them and go, ‘Man, they’d be good tight ends, too.’ So he’s a heckuva player.”
”He’s a great back,” said safety Tyrann Mathieu. ”It’s hard to keep those guys kind of bottled up for the whole game.”
”It’s going to take a lot of us hitting him and tackling him — more than one guy,” offered linebacker Anthony Hitchens. “He’s a big guy — strong, physical, all the tools. That’s why he’s running wild right now.”
And he has been.
In the first two games of the playoffs, Henry has rushed for 377 yards on 64 attempts — that’s 5.9 yards per attempt — as the Titans have vaulted from the AFC’s sixth seed to the conference championship by defeating the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens.
During those same two games, the team’s quarterback — whose name, by the way, is Ryan Tannehill — has completed 15 of 29 passes for 160 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
That’s in both games — not just one.
So Henry has the Chiefs’ attention.
“I think the most important thing is [that] we have to finish the game strong,” said Mathieu. “If you watch a lot of Derrick Henry, he gets stronger as the game goes on. His first halves aren’t that great — but in the second half, he takes off. So we’ve got to be well-rested [and] hydrated to finish the game — to compete against him and slow him down when it matters the most.”
Mathieu had a point. As 610 Sports host Carrington Harrison noted on Wednesday afternoon, Henry has been used more often in the second half of Titans games — and has been even more effective as the game has wound down.
Derrick Henry splits— Carrington Harrison (@cdotharrison) January 15, 2020
First half: 132 carries, 543 yards; 2 TDs
Second half: 171 carries, 997 yards; 14 TDs.
But unsurprisingly, Reid is sticking to his process.
”There aren’t a lot of guys like that, but you’re facing him this week,” he said. “So you get yourself right to play. That’s the process that you go through right now. The most important thing on both sides of the ball and special teams: get in and exhaust yourself on our preparation — the mental part of it.
”They’re going to do what they do,” he added. “We understand that. They’ve got good players and good coordinators and a good scheme on both sides of the ball. You know that things are going to come that you haven’t worked on, so you’ve got to bank on your fundamentals and techniques and training.”
By Hitchens’s account, the training currently includes talking about the best way to bring Henry down.
”You’ve just got to take his legs out,” he explained. “We talked all week to ‘kill the engine’ — hit him in his thighs and legs [and] chop him down. When you hit him high, he’ll carry you for about five more yards. So hit him low.”
But Hitchens was quick to add that the hits had to be “legal within the game.”
After being reminded of the last time the teams met — when Henry ran for 188 yards against the Chiefs defense and his team picked up a 35-32 home victory — Mathieu said a lot has changed.
”Our team’s grown so much since then,” he said. “We’ve [been] the top defense the last six or seven weeks. We’ve been focusing on the details of our defense, [because] if one guy misses an assignment or a gap, you can get gashed. Like when we played them the last time. We held him pretty good for about three and a half quarters and he busts out a 70-yard run on us. We’ll try to not let that happen again — play four quarters of great defense — and I think we’ll be all right.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys who are fit for four quarters [and] are ready for this challenge,” he said. “You don’t get this opportunity much, so we’re going to take advantage of it, play four quarters and see where it takes us.”