Admittedly, they wouldn’t be wrong

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    Those Criticizing Derrick Henry Need to Point Elsewhere Too Youth Derrick Henry Jersey , for Now Based on headline alone, I’d bet some readers are already headed to the comment section to disagreeably pound their fists on the MCM round table and bemoan how much of a disappointment Derrick Henry has been through four games.In no way is this examination intended to praise Henry.It is simply advocating for patience and for the current umbrella of blame to be opened wider.This team is in a great spot at 3-1, the defense has been stout overall, and the passing game finally showed signs of life this past Sunday.The run game is the one phase which is not trending in the right direction under this new staff and I’m sure everyone directly involved recognizes it as a weak link in need of strengthening.First thing’s first, here are some unbiased statistics to factor in.I’ve listed each of the Titans’ first four opponents’ yards per carry allowed against their other three opponents (i.e. I excluded the Titans to avoid overlap), with one small adjustment.To better filter out anomaly plays, I omitted the 2 longest and 2 shortest runs against each defense.Here’s what I wound up with:Miami DolphinsDiscarded Runs-5 yards-4 yards22 yards23 yardsAdjusted Total77 attempts279 yards3.62 ypcHouston TexansDiscarded Runs-5 yards-3 yards15 yards24 yardsAdjusted Total62 attempts221 yards3.56 ypcJacksonville JaguarsDiscarded Runs-4 yards-3 yards15 yards68 yardsAdjusted Total49 attempts130 yards2.65 ypcPhiladelphia EaglesDiscarded Runs-6-31420Adjusted Total44 attempts111 yards2.52 ypcNext, I tallied both Derrick Henry’s and Dion Lewis’ yards per carry against each opponent to date, after excluding any runs that would have been discarded from the previously calculated defensive totals had the Titans been included.For instance, against the Eagles I excluded both a -4 yard run and a 14 yard run from Derrick Henry’s average, because both fell on or outside of the parameters set within the first section.This way, the backs did not receive credit for runs that wouldn’t have factored into the defensive totals.Derrick HenryAdjusted Totals:Dolphins: 2.6 ypcTexans: 3.47 ypc (discarded a -3 yard run)Jaguars: 3.53 ypc (discarded a -3 yard run)Eagles: 2.33 ypc (discarded a -4 yard run and a 14 yard run)Dion LewisAdjusted Totals:Dolphins: 3.86 ypc (discarded a -5 yard run and a 26 yard run)Texans: 3.46 ypc (discarded a -3 yard run)Jaguars: 3.63 ypc (discarded a -3 yard run)Eagles: 0 ypcAt first glance, Lewis appears to have been the more consistent back.I realize it runs contrary to the basis of this analysis to bring up Henry’s called-back 60-yard run in Miami (which would have been discarded even if it had counted), but I think it’s fair to at least mention it in the context of the gap between Henry and Lewis in week one.Going into that game, Lewis was viewed as a better stylistic match-up against the Dolphins defensive front.Especially when omitting outlier runs, one could have predicted the gap in efficiency in that contest.Outside of that game, though, the two have been right on par with one another.Both narrowly under-performed vs. the average against Houston and outperformed the average against Jacksonville.Lewis only received 4 carries against the Eagles (compared to Henry’s 8) and he may have brought up his average slightly if given a couple more opportunities.Very few backs, if any, are going to find consistent success against Philadelphia.Not factoring in their current season stats, Henry and Lewis have both achieved high yards per carry historically.During his first two pro seasons, Henry averaged 4.3 ypc (not adjusted in the same manner as above).Over the five seasons prior to 2018, Lewis earned 4.8 ypc (again, non-adjusted).I have no beef with anyone who suggests that Dion Lewis is a better pro running back than Derrick Henry.Lewis certainly offers more as a receiver.Henry may develop into a better pass blocker as his career elapses, but right now Lewis is more reliable in that facet too.As runners, they’ve both been successful.It’s important to recognize the reality of their respective “styles”, however.To make a baseball analogy, Henry is like a designated hitter who bats for power, not average.Lewis is like a shortstop—he’s a more complete player who does a little bit of everything at the plate but isn’t going to go yard as often.To continue with the analogy, the pitchers they’ve faced—the opposing run defenses—have played a significant role in a shared lack of success.I also don’t think the other members of the line-up—the Titans OL—have given either many chances to knock in RBIs or advance runners.Getting back to a real sport, I think it’s reasonable to allow some more time for the offensive line to gel both as a unit and within this new blocking scheme.Matt LaFleur is still learning when and how he can get the most out of each back.There will be games for both in which they prove more valuable than the other.Strictly in terms of run plays , my proverbial scorecard would award Jacksonville and Philadelphia to Henry, Miami to Lewis, and call Houston a draw (Welcome to the wide world of cross-sports analogies!)According to Football Outsiders’ Rush Defense DVOA, the Titans have played the 6th, 3rd, 7th, and 2nd highest-rated run defenses in the league through four games.In the next quarter of the season, they’ll face the (current) 14th, 9th, 25th, and 13th highest-rated run defenses.We should get a more balanced sample with which to evaluate Henry, Lewis, the OL, and LaFleur’s run-play selection.Here’s hoping each can improve enough to make the ground game an asset for the Titans down the stretch. Prime time game on the road against one of the league’s most popular teams, the Titans found themselves in a huge hole early. After a long Cowboys drive resulted in a missed field goal, DeMarcus Lawrence beat Jack Conklin around the edge and stripped Marcus Mariota and Dallas recovered at the 15. A short touchdown pass to Amari Cooper a few plays later put Dallas up early. The Titans came back and fumbled again, this time on a botched handoff from Mariota to Dion Lewis. Once again, the Cowboys took over in Titans territory, but this time the defense bowed its neck and got a fantastic interception in the back of the endzone from Kevin Byard. Byard took the ball directly to the star at midfield of AT&T Stadium and posed, reminiscent of Terrell Owens. From that moment on, the Titans looked like a different team. Tennessee outscored Dallas 28-7 down the stretch, snapping their three game losing streak and showing some offensive firepower that has been missing over the first half of the year. It’s a huge win and puts the Titans right back in the playoff race in the AFC. Here are the winners and losers.WinnersMarcus MariotaMariota’s first game playing at what he termed “100%” was awfully impressive. He finished 21 of 29 for 240 yards and 2 touchdowns, adding another 32 yards and a touchdown on the ground. For the second straight game Mariota was ultra-effective on third downs, converting 11 of 14 attempts. Mariota’s most impressive throw of the night was a strike down the seam to Darius Jennings on 3rd and 10 that eventually led to the team’s second touchdown of the night.This is exactly the kind of throw that I’ve been wanting to see from Mariota this season. It’s aggressive, in to a tight window, and relies on his receiver to make a play for him. In short, it’s a trust throw. We’ve all seen him do this before so it’s not a matter of ability or accuracy, Mariota has this in him, it’s just a matter of mindset and it sure looked like a more aggressive Mariota tonight. Kevin ByardByard had the massive, momentum swinging interception early that was his biggest play of the game, but he showed up several other times throughout the night in run support as well. Byard is truly a do-it-all safety and he’s becoming the emotional leader of this defense as well.Some won’t like the move to go stand in the star — especially Cowboys fans — but I think the best defenses almost always carry themselves with that little bit of extra fire and that’s what this Titans defense is becoming. I truly believe his celebration helped inspire the surge from the team directly following it.Dion LewisThe most obvious adjustment from the bye week was that this is officially Dion Lewis’ backfield now. Lewis led the way with 19 carries to Derrick Henry’s 6. While he only managed 62 yards on the ground, he did a bunch of damage through the air, catching 4 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. The Titans kept recently added fullback Jalston Fowler inactive for this game, but they did use tight end Luke Stocker as a lead blocker frequently throughout the game. [img][/img]
    I would imagine that will become Fowler’s role as he gets up to speed. It seems like Matt LaFleur likes Dion Lewis running behind a fullback similar to the way Lewis was used during his most productive stint in New England.My guess is that we see Lewis treated like a feature back moving forward with Henry coming in to give rest and pick up short yardage until they can use him as a closer in games that they’re leading late. For all of Henry’s talent, it’s hard to disagree with with this approach right now given the results we’ve seen this season. Jayon BrownI feel like you can pretty much pencil Brown in to the “winners” category every week. He seems to have at least one or two splash plays each game and tonight was no different. His strip sack of Dak Prescott early in the second half put the Titans in great field position. The effort on this play is pretty special. He’s setting a pick for Jurrell Casey to try and free up the Titans best pass rusher , ends up falling over a blocking back, but regains his feet and strips Prescott to force the turnover. Great play by a guy who has really turned into a good NFL player in his second year out of UCLA. Kenny VaccaroVaccaro made his return to the starting lineup after sitting out the last three games with a dislocated elbow suffered early in the Eagles game. He was constantly around the ball in Dallas, finishing second on the team with 6 tackles and helping the Titans run defense hold the Cowboys to their lowest rushing total of the season.Vaccaro has turned out to be a major bright spot for this team after signing late in the offseason when Johnathan Cyprien went down. Having him back with Byard on the back end of the Titans defense makes this team better.Taywan Taylor, Darius Jennings, Jonnu Smith & Cameron BatsonThis group had been pretty unpopular over the past two weeks as Titans fans pined for help at wide receiver and tight end at the trade deadline, but they all came up big on Monday night. Taylor had two big third down conversions on tough catches before leaving with what looked like an ankle or foot injury. We will have to track his injury this week leading up to the Patriots game. Jennings and Batson both got plenty of snaps, especially after Taylor left, and both had big moments. Jennings had the big 36-yard grab up the seam highlighted above and Batson converted both of his catches for third down conversions as well, including this WR screen.Smith picked up a pair of catches, one of which counted as his first touchdown of 2018 on a nice shovel pass from Mariota. Smith has looked like he’s settling down over the last couple weeks and he looked particularly good making this catch over the middle for a big gain.Harold Landry & Brian OrakpoAfter a slow start from the pass rush, the Titans got things cranked up in the second half, sacking Prescott 5 times down the stretch including one each from Orakpo and Landry. Orakpo’s was just a matter of chasing Prescott out of bounds, but it counts as his first sack of the year. It’s good to see him get one on the board even if it wasn’t terribly impressive.Landry’s sack came just a few plays later as the Cowboys chipped him to slow down his edge rush, but the rookie just fought through inside of Cowboys right tackle La’el Collins to get to Prescott. It’s just Landry’s second of the year, but it feels like he should have several more. Mike Vrabel, Dean Pees & Matt LaFleurThe coaching staff really deserves a ton of credit for this one. Vrabel had his team motivated and prepared coming off of the bye and it showed. LaFleur called the best game of his Titans career and seems to be getting a better feel for Mariota week by week. The screen game started to bear some fruit and that’s something that can be a game changer for this offense if they can start getting chunk plays with those low risk throws. He was particularly effective in the red zone, going 4 for 5 on the night with touchdowns. My only gripe is that they still have yet to score from outside the red zone this year, but we did see more explosive plays from the offense in general.Also, can I get a slow clap for not one but two QB sneaks during the game? The Titans learned from their short yardage mistakes in London and kept the ball on the ground for their 3rd and 4th and 1 tries with great success. If nothing else, this coaching staff has proven that they’re willing to adapt to what’s working and move away from what’s not working. It sounds simple, but watching Mike Mularkey try to smash that exotic square peg in to the proverbial round hole for two years, it’s not something I’ll take for granted from this group.Pees’ defense deserves a massive amount of credit. They forced two turnovers on the night. One prevented a Cowboys score and the other led to a Titans touchdown. By holding the Cowboys to just 14 points, they moved in to first in the NFL in scoring defense. They’ll face their toughest test of the season next week, but the Titans defense hasn’t allowed more than 21 points in regulation since Week 1. LosersMalcolm ButlerThat being said, there is a clear loser on the defensive side of the ball and it’s Malcolm Butler. He got beat on the first touchdown by Amari Cooper who ran a very nice whip route to get free on the goalline. That’s understandable.Cooper is a good route runner and if a receiver has time to run a double move at the goalline, it’s usually going to end poorly for the defense. Less understandable, was the touchdown Butler allowed before the half.Allen Hurns roasted Butler here and it’s emblematic of his season as a whole — gambling to make a big play, but gets burned for it. At this point it’s far too predictable. Offenses are coming at Butler constantly and winning too often. I had hoped his excellent performance in London was going to be a sign of things to come, but it appears it was a mirage. Butler’s struggles continue to be one of the few blemishes on an otherwise spectacular defense.Jack ConklinConklin had been playing at a pretty high level heading in to this game, but he was no match for the excellent DeMarcus Lawrence (few are), getting beat a couple times including this disastrous rep that led to a turnover.Conklin would leave in the first half with what was reported to be a concussion which makes his availability on a short week very unlikely. However, the silver lining is that Dennis Kelly continues to be a solid backup tackle and the offense really kept right on clicking after Conklin’s exit. Dorial Green-Beckham for Dennis Kelly continues to be one of the most under the radar robberies of recent NFL trades.Ryan SuccopSuccop has mostly been an extremely reliable kicker during his time here, but he missed a 28-yard chip shot in this game. It was the second shortest miss of his 9-plus year NFL career and the shortest during his stint in Tennessee. It could have been a very painful miss if things had worked out differently too. The Titans were up 21-14, trying to go up two scores in the fourth quarter when his attempt clanged off the upright giving Dallas new life.

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