Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry has been one of the most feared running backs in recent memory. His ability to break tackles, accelerate, and bully defenses all while standing at 6’3″, 247 lbs is just something that shouldn’t be physically possible.
When it comes to the Kansas City Chiefs, Henry has become a familiar foe as are the Titans as a team. For whatever reason, Tennessee has been a thorn in the side of Kansas City really ever since the Andy Reid era began, besting the Chiefs in four of the last five meetings. The last only time the Chiefs were able to overcome Tennessee in the last five years was of course the 2019 AFC Championship Game in which there was an extra emphasis put on containing the star running back.
While Henry is an intimidating opponent, he certainly is a challenge that the Chiefs are familiar with and have handled before. Looking at the past few matchups, Henry has only run for over 100 yards twice in the last three meetings. The last time in which he did was in 2019 in the regular season when Henry ran for 188 yards in a 35-32 Titans win. Since then, the Chiefs have held Henry to 16 attempts for 69 yards in the 2019 AFC Championship and 29 attempts for just 86 yards in 2021.
As long as the Chiefs are mentally up to the task, they are more than capable of stalling Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans.
Despite these efforts, the Chiefs are 1-2 versus the Titans in those games. Why? Well, in the 2019 regular season, Henry simply ran all over Kansas City and was a big reason the Chiefs lost. Just last season, the Titans clobbered the Chiefs 27-3 despite Henry being a non-factor for the most part. That loss was mostly due to the holes in the Chiefs’ passing defense as Julio Jones and A.J. Brown did not let up. Furthermore, Kansas City had one of the worst defenses in NFL history through the first five weeks of the 2021 season, giving up 29 points or more in each of the first five games.
Obviously, the Chiefs went on to improve after figuring things out on defense, but how does this relate to the matchup this year with Henry? Well, we know that Henry has been the focal point of the Titans’ offense for a long time now. Usually, when the Chiefs know there is a big, bad opponent on the other side, they tend to rise to the occasion. They’ve done it multiple times now when it comes to stopping Henry. There’s a certain mentality that comes with playing run defense, and a lot of times, it can be more effort than anything—just like we saw in 2019 when Henry went from regular-season domination to under 100 postseason yards against the Chiefs and an epic postgame speech from Frank Clark that summarized it all.
This time around, stopping Henry should be a lot easier. The Titans’ offense ranks 32nd overall in the NFL overall. Essentially, the Titans’ offense is nothing special outside of Henry and that means he should be the focus of the Chiefs’ defense. If you can stop him, Tennessee will have a hard time keeping up offensively which makes Henry easier to bottle up.
Kansas City’s rush defense started out the year pretty hot, but since then, they have given up 127 rush yards per game. That number has to come down in Week 9. The defensive line will need to be more aggressive in filling their gaps than they’ve looked in recent games. For example, Derrick Nnadi has taken a step back when it comes to stopping the run this year. They simply need him to be better, especially with Clark out of the lineup.
The Chiefs will hopefully have a fully healthy linebacking group in this one. Many remember last year when Nick Bolton single-handedly stopped Henry in a performance that ultimately won him defensive rookie of the month. If you can get that type of performance again the Chiefs should have no problem in this game as far as rushing defense.
All in all, Henry presents a challenge for Kansas City, but nothing they haven’t seen before, and the defense is looking the healthiest it’s been since week one. As long as the Chiefs are mentally up to the task, they are more than capable of stalling Henry and the Titans.