The Titans are coming off a 4th straight win in which they narrowly beat the only true threat in their division: The Indianapolis Colts. In a shocking development on Monday morning, however, the Titans season shifted entirely as it was announced that Derrick Henry likely suffered a jones fracture, sidelining him for at least 6 weeks and possibly the entire season.
Derrick Henry began the season on an unspeakably good pace. He led the league in rushing by 290 yards which solidified him as the best Running Back in the league by a considerable margin.
Due to his importance to the Titans, he even got his name in to the MVP discussion following a dominating Monday Night performance against the Bills.
The stat that most accurately shows Henry's dominance is his incredible 4,792 over the past 40 games, the highest total ever in that period. He beat out Hall of Fame Running Backs Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson, Terrell Davis, and Eric Dickerson for that title.
Another telling stat is the list of all players with 750+ rushing yards and 10+ Rushing touchdowns through 6 weeks of the season:
Derrick Henry (2021)
Eric Dickerson (1983)
Prior to Sunday's game against the Colts, Henry was on pace for another 2,000 yard season and would have become the first Running Back in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in back to back seasons. The Titans have lost just 5 games when Derrick Henry gets more than 20 carries throughout his entire NFL career.
All that is said to show just how important Henry has been to the team. When Henry is going, the offense is going and the team is capable of competing with any team in the league.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that Henry is set to miss 6-10 weeks after he undergoes surgery on Tuesday morning. In his career, Henry has missed just one game due to injury which was an unimportant non-conference game in 2019.
As Coach Mike Vrabel said in Tuesday Morning's press conference, "If anyone can come back, it's Derrick Henry". Henry has some of the most insane workouts I have ever witnessed and went over 2 seasons and 630 carries without missing a game.
Despite this, the Titans are still contenders because of the weakness of the AFC and the improvement of Tennessee's defense.
The Titans currently have a convincing grasp on the AFC south and have a 3-0 divisional record. The Titans are currently 4 games ahead of the Colts and FiveThirtyEight estimates that the Titans have a 99% chance to make the playoffs.
The Colts remaining schedule includes games against Tom Brady and the Bucs, the 7-1 Cardinals, and the AFC West leading Raiders. The Titans' schedule include a huge Sunday Night matchup against the Rams next week as well as the 49ers and Steelers.
AFC South Standings:
Top Teams in AFC:
In the AFC, the Ravens and Bills do give me some concern. The Ravens and MVP candidate Lamar Jackson are capable of competing with any team in the league and were the Titans' kryptonite in last year's playoffs. Another reason that Henry's injury is so disappointing is that for once, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are struggling and do not look the same as in the past.
In response to the Derrick Henry news, the Titans signed Hall of Fame Running Back Adrian Peterson. Peterson, 36, is coming off a 604 yard, 7 TD season with the Lions where he averaged 3.9 yards per attempt. The peak of his career came in Minnesota where he was the league's best and most explosive Running Back for multiple seasons. Peterson, along with Henry, is one of just 8 Running Backs in league history to total 2,000 rushing yards in a season.
Peterson is the oldest starting Running Back in the NFL by 3 years but I am optimistic that he will contribute. I would still prefer the Titans take a Running Back by committee approach. There are a few notable Running Backs still available on the market, namely Todd Gurley who I think is worth the risk as he would likely take a league minimum deal.
5th year Running Back Jeremy McNichols will now take on a much bigger role. Primarily a receiving back, McNichols has 38 yards on 7 carries this season and 233 yards on 21 receptions which included a season high of 74 receiving yards against the Jets when both A.J. Brown and Julio Jones were out. Titans 2020 3rd round pick Darrynton Evans was placed on IR prior to the Colts game; an unfortunate development for him as a major opportunity opened for him with Henry's injury.
The rest of the Titans offense is still a concern after the Henry injury. While Ryan Tannehill and A.J. Brown have been on the same page as of late, the lack of depth at receiver is starting to become an issue. Julio Jones staying healthy down the stretch is vital to not only Tannehill and the offense's success but the team's success as a whole. In the Seahawks game, we saw Jones near full strength and he was dominant.
Defensively, the Titans are on the rise whether it seems like it or not. In the past 4 weeks, the pass rush has greatly improved and despite injuries, the secondary is holding up. OLB Harold Landry III is currently tied for 2nd in the league in sacks with 8.5 and Safety Kevin Byard is 2nd in the league in interceptions with 4 as he continues his all-pro season.
Corner Back Chris Jackson has stepped up in place of the injured Caleb Farley and Kristian Fulton. Defensive tackle Denico Autry is also playing very impactful football alongside Jeffrey Simmons.
Henry's injury is by no means a positive but gives everyone else on the team a chance to step up. Ryan Tannehill will certainly need to step up his game as will offensive coordinator Todd Downing. At this point, Downing dictates the team's success as much as just about anyone besides the Head Coach and Quarterback.
Next week is a real test for the Titans but ultimately, it is not a vitally important game. Sure, it would be a huge statement to beat who I see as the Super Bowl favorite Rams in prime time, without the NFL MVP; but really, it is not that important to the team's playoff hopes.