As the Raiders prepare for the Tennessee Titans Sunday, they know they’re going to have to focus on stopping running back Derrick Henry.
The 6-foot-3, 247-pound former Alabama standout is a bruising, bashing ballcarrier who had his first 1,000-yard season in 2018 and already has 1,140 yards through 12 games in 2019.
Henry is No. 3 in the NFL in rushing and his 11 touchdowns are second in the league. He averages 4.9 yards per carry and sets the tone for an offense that has improved this season and helped the Titans to five wins in their past six games.
The Oakland defensive interior – with tackles Jonathan Hankins, Maurice Hurst and P.J. Hall – will have to get penetration and defeat blockers to clog up running lanes and make quarterback Ryan Tannehill win the game through the air.
Raiders head coach Jon Gruden says controlling Henry could be the key factor in the game.
"I think the secret sauce in Henry is he’s got all the talent and size and running instincts, but he never tires," Gruden told the media this week. "He’s a machine, man. You’ve got to gang tackle him. The more they give him the ball, the better he gets. … An impressive human being."
Henry, in fact, is on a historic streak. In the Titans’ three straight victories coming into Sunday’s matchup with the Raiders, Henry has had at least 140 yards rushing and a TD, a feat accomplished by just five other running backs since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. The others: O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson, Ricky Williams, Larry Johnson and Adrian Peterson.
In Henry’s past three games he has carried 68 times for 496 yards, three TDs and an average of 7.3 yards per carry. Henry’s success on the ground has taken the pressure off Tannehill, who has averaged just 19.6 pass attempts over the past three games.
As Michael Salfino of the analytic website Fivethirtyeight.com noted this week, Henry leads all NFL running backs in yards after initial contact and has been especially effective at gaining yards in the red zone, even when defenses are stacked against the run.
Recently, Colts middle linebacker Anthony Walker paid tribute to Henry’s ability after the Titans standout rushed for 149 yards against Indianapolis.
Said Walker: "He’s a great back. We know that. He’s a huge human. We know that."
The 7-5 Titans are set to take on the 6-6 Raiders Sunday in Oakland at 1:25 p.m.