NFL

Tennessee Titans: Henry going strong but gaping holes to plug this offseason

By Sports Desk March 09, 2021

As was the case a year earlier, Derrick Henry's tremendous performances on the ground could only take the 2020 Tennessee Titans so far in the playoffs.

Running back Henry was once again the star as the Titans returned to the postseason with an 11-5 record, their best since 2008 – also the last time they had won the AFC South.

But having come up short against eventual champions the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2019 AFC Championship Game, Tennessee fell at the first hurdle this time.

The Baltimore Ravens, still hurting from their shock defeat against Henry and Co the previous season, prevailed 20-13 in the Wild Card round.

So the Titans must regroup again ahead of the 2021 campaign, surely again looking to Henry to provide their spark while negotiating a challenging offseason.

The league's Offensive Player of the Year will certainly need some help, as our study with Stats Perform data shows.

Offense

It came as no surprise that the Titans ranked as high as second in rushing yards last season (168.1 per game) given Henry's incredible consistency.

There was not a rushing metric in which Henry did not lead the NFL, attempting 378 rushes, at 23.6 per game, for 2,027 yards (126.7 per game) and 17 touchdowns – league-high marks across the board.

Tennessee rushed on 50.5 per cent of plays – ranking third – and Henry carried the load almost single-handedly. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was next for total yardage with 266.

But the flaws in this approach were laid bare by the Ravens, who got to grips with Henry.

He was restricted to 18 attempts for just 40 yards. Only once in his NFL career – in a Week 17 win over Jacksonville in 2017 – had Henry previously averaged less than 2.2 yards with 18 rushes or more.

This reliance on Henry in their biggest games ultimately proved damaging, even as the rest of the offense also largely performed well.

Tannehill finished the year with a passer rating of 106.5 – fifth in the NFL – but he threw fewer passes (481) than any other QB to start 16 games, while the Titans were 23rd in net passing yards (228.3 per game).

Wide receivers A.J. Brown (70 receptions for 1,075 yards and 11 TDs) and Corey Davis (65 receptions for 984 yards and five TDs) each put up impressive career-best numbers, yet they ranked joint-32nd and joint-38th respectively for catches.

With the focus on Henry, their season stopped when he was slowed.

Defense

Even with Baltimore impressively handling Henry, a rare bad game might have been less of an issue had the defense been able to hold up.

Across the regular season, the Titans ranked 28th for opponent yards per game (398.3), including 277.4 net passing yards per game, 29th best in the league.

The franchise paid the price for some big free agency misses in the form of edge rushers Vic Beasley Jr. and Jadeveon Clowney, who signed one-year contracts worth a combined $22.2million and failed to contribute a single sack between them.

Clowney played eight games before he was placed on injured reserve due to a knee injury, while Beasley showed up late to training camp and played just five times before he was released.

A defensive unit that shared a locker room with the best running back in the sport was at least slightly better at disrupting their opponents' ground game, but they still allowed 120.8 rushing yards per game (19th in the league).

As a result, too often Tennessee could not get their opponents off the field and put the ball in Henry's hands.

Opponents spent 31 minutes and 32 seconds in possession on average (27th in the league), while the Titans recorded only 19 sacks, ranking 30th.

Even on the rare occasions they did successfully put teams under pressure, the Titans were dead last in third-down stops. A massive 51.9 per cent of third downs against them were converted, including 42.6 per cent of attempts of six yards or more and 37.7 per cent of 10 yards or more.

Offseason

There is lots to do before the new season starts if the Titans are to be competitive again. Indeed, the scale of the task might well mean a Super Bowl run is beyond them in 2021, even with Henry a force once more.

Offensive coordinator Arthur Smith's departure to Atlanta, where he will be the Falcons' head coach, prompted the promotion of Todd Downing to a role he has served in for only one year previously, with the Raiders in 2017.

And he will have his work cut out if the Titans are to come close to maintaining last season's standard.

The team declined Davis' fifth-year option prior to his career-best year, making him an unrestricted free agent, while tight ends Jonnu Smith (eight TDs in 2020) and Anthony Firkser are also leaving. Slot receiver Adam Humphries, injured and expensive last year, will be less of a miss.

It means Brown is the only remaining Titan to have posted more than 200 receiving yards for the team in 2020.

On defense, meanwhile, the short-lived failures of Clowney and Beasley mean there is again a gaping hole at the edge position.

Tennessee have just $10.6m of cap room to work with and, although they at least still have their draft picks, some tough weeks and months lie ahead.

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