The last time the Buffalo Bills played the Tennessee Titans, running back Derrick Henry turned cornerback Josh Norman into a poster, a meme and an instructional video for how not to tackle the 27-year-old tailback, all in one play.
Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier had a front-row seat to the viral event last year when the Titans took it to the Bills in Week 5, and this time around, he's hoping history doesn't repeat itself.
“I’d prefer not to think about Derrick Henry right now,” Frazier joked with reporters on Monday.
Henry currently leads the NFL in carries (142) — 48 more than the next closest runner — rushing yards (640), rushing touchdowns (seven) and total yards from scrimmage (765). He entered Week 5 with 365 yards rushing after contact, which is more yards than all but six players have tallied overall.
“He’s a really, really good back and we’re going to have our hands full trying to contain him,” Frazier said. “[The Titans] have a completely different style of offense that’s centered around their running back as opposed to their receivers and quarterback.”
Trying to contextualize the five-game start Henry is off to can be somewhat mindboggling. The running back is currently on pace for 2,176 yards rushing, which would be a new NFL single-season record; 21 rushing touchdowns, which would tie him for the sixth-most in a single season; and 482 carries, which would shatter Larry Johnson’s single-season record of 416.
He’s also on pace to be the first running back in NFL history with three straight 1,500-yard, 15-touchdown seasons.
“Derrick is playing at a high level,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott said. “Probably if not the best, one of the best running backs in the league. So, to go from one challenge (in Patrick Mahomes) to another challenge (in Henry) this week, playing at their place in front of their fans, it’ll be a big test for us.”
What makes the 6-foot-3, 238-pound Henry difficult to game plan for is there is no singular way to stop him.
Henry is the kind of runner that you can’t give space to because if he finds it, he will flat-out outrun you to the end zone. And you can’t stack the box against him (eight or more defenders playing the line of scrimmage) because he’s so savvy that he finds ways to blow up the box.
Henry led the NFL in rushing touchdowns against a stacked box each of the past two seasons (12 in 2019, 10 in 2020) and he’s leading the league in that same category again this year (five through five games). Against the Jaguars on Sunday, Henry faced a stacked box on 16 of his 29 carries, but he still scored two of his three touchdowns in those situations.
“Guys are blocking for him, (he’ll) gain nine yards, gain another nine yards, gain 10 yards, and then walked in from the 10-yard line,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “Ultimately, I think he gets better, builds more confidence, sees where the cuts should be. I saw some runs that were better in the fourth quarter than there were in the first quarter just by him seeing the same look, or the same defense, or block the same way and then making the right cut.”
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