The Tennessee Titans will be without starting running back DeMarco Murray when they host the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday, giving second year back up Derrick Henry his highly anticipated feature role.
The start comes in the biggest game of Henry’s career, a stellar one that includes a record-setting high school stint, a collegiate national championship, and Heisman Trophy.
Not only can Henry change Tennessee’s fortune by carrying them to their first playoff appearance since 2008, but he can also change his own fortune.
Titans fans have been clamoring for more Henry, pretty much all season long. But head coach Mike Mularkey has been loyal to Murray, even in the midst of the worst statistical season of his career.
Henry is leading the team in rushing with 693 yards, 34 more than Murray, and with 36 fewer attempts. He’s averaging a yard more per carry (4.7 – 3.6), and has more explosive plays of 20 plus yards.
Yet, Murray had a decisive advantage in touches over Tennessee’s current three game losing streak. Something that has fans and media alike scratching their heads.
While Henry has been the more effective back on the ground, coach Mularkey consistently points to other phases of Murray’s game that keeps him atop the Thunder & Thunder pecking order…and that’s the passing game and blitz pickups.
Murray is fourth on the team in receptions (39) and receiving yards (268), and 17 of those catches led to first downs. Henry has ten receptions on the season for 70 yards.
On the flip side, opportunity is everything, and one could argue that Henry hasn’t been given the chance to prove that he is a capable receiver out of the back field. He has been targeted just 15 times in the passing game all season, compared to Murray’s 47.
The same could be said about Henry’s ability to pick up blitzes, as he hasn’t been on the field enough in passing situations to definitively judge him in that area.
Henry can answer those questions Sunday, as it is safe to assume that Tennessee will continue to use the no huddle offense at times again this week.
Proving that he is an every down back in the biggest game of the season would force the coaching staff to re-evaluate Thunder & Thunder’s roles next season, regardless of Murray’s health.
And as fate would have it, Henry faces a team that he has enjoyed success against in the Jacksonville Jaguars….averaging 4.6 yards per rush and 10 yards per reception in three career games. He also has two toucdowns against the division foe.
If that success continues and the Titans clinch a playoff spot by defeating the Jags then Derrick should be King Henry to the coaching staff as well as the fans.