The Tennessee Titans are set to resume the back-nine of their season after a much-needed bye week. Head coach Mike Vrabel addressed the media today and spoke of self-scouting as much as scouting future opponents.
So it comes as no surprise that Tennessee elected to bring back fullback Jalston Fowler in hopes of jump starting an anemic run game that has plummeted since his release 10 months ago.
And no one should be happier to see his former collegiate teammate than running back Derrick Henry.
Tennessee’s offensive struggles have been well chronicled this season under new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur. The Titans are currently 30th in yards per game (280.9) and scoring (15.1).
One of the biggest reasons for this is Tennessee’s inability to find balance on offense. When the run game struggles, defenses can pin their ears back and attack the quarterback…..evidenced by Baltimore’s 11 sack performance a few weeks ago.
The Titans managed just 55 yards rushing in that shutout loss, and quarterback Marcus Mariota accounted for 25 of those yards while running for his life.
Which brings us back to Fowler.
The tough and physical fullback was the lead blocker during Tennessee’s “exotic smash mouth” 2016 season. A season in which the Titans finished 3rd in the league in rushing.
Henry, who was a rookie that season, averaged nearly 5 yards per carry in spot duty for DeMarco Murray. He also found himself in the closing role late in games, when teams weren’t so eager to take on nearly 500 pounds of lead blocker and back.
The result was several long game-clinching runs by Henry.
Without Fowler this season, Henry was on pace for career lows in yards, yards per attempt, and touchdowns. He entered the bye week averaging a paltry 3.3 yards per carry, and scored his first and only touchdown of the season in London two weeks ago.
From the one yard line….
One of the biggest reasons for Henry’s overall struggles could be his usage. It doesn’t take a professional scout to know that Henry is a volume rusher who needs 20-25 carries to effectively wear down a defense. The minimal gains throughout the first three quarters paid huge dividends late in games under the previous regime.
Patience is going to be key for LaFleur going forward, who often yanked Henry in favor of the versatile and shifty Dion Lewis….even on short yardage plays.
While Lewis is an exceptional back that runs with more power than his 5’8, 195 pound frame would suggest, Henry has proven to be an effective back in this league when given a realistic opportunity to succeed….just ask Kansas City in last year’s playoffs.
Fowler’s return could mean a return, in part, to Henry being the bell cow back they envisioned when they drafted him in the second round of the 2016 draft.
And let’s not forget the impact that tight end Delanie Walker had in the run game. His physicality at the point of attack seemed to take a back seat to his three-time Pro Bowl receiving skills.
Fowler could help in that area, as well as pass protection, with a little creative imagination from the coaching staff.
Lewis has earned the right to see the field just as much as Henry, and both can be effective if the Titans remain committed to the run, as they were in 2016.
That opens up the play action passing attack, which happens to be the strengths of LaFleur and Mariota.
With the passing game’s early struggles, a return to a more ball-controlled offense featuring a power rushing attack could be Tennessee’s recipe for salvaging the season and earning their first division title in ten years.
And no one is better suited to help in that area than Fowler.