Mandatory Credit: Photo by Trask Smith/CSM/Shutterstock (13582078am) Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) carries the ball during a game between the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans in Houston, TX NFL Titans vs Texans, USA - 30 Oct 2022

John McClain: Texans can expect another dose of Derrick Henry in Tennessee

If this were the Wild West, Derrick Henry would be on every wanted poster in the Houston area. Henry, the Titans’ running back who has tormented the Texans, would be wanted – dead or alive. Dog the Bounty Hunter would be pursuing Henry to bring him to justice. So would Josh Randall and Jake Cahill (Google them).

What Henry has done to the Texans – and could do again Saturday in frigid Nashville – should be against the law. He’s battered the Texans with four consecutive 200-yard games – 211, 212, 250, and 219. He’s beaten them down and worn them out by averaging 30 carries, 223 yards, 7.4 yards a carry, and 2.3 touchdowns during that span.

It’s almost mind-boggling to think during this unbelievable, unprecedented stretch against the Texans that Henry’s lowest production is 211 yards – 39 fewer than his best. His highest average per carry is 9.6 yards, and his lowest is 6.6. The most touchdowns he’s scored is three, and the fewest is two.

In the first game this season, a 17-10 Titans victory at NRG Stadium, Henry carried 32 times for 219 yards (6.8) and two touchdowns. With Malik Willis making his first start because starter Ryan Tannehill was injured, Henry stepped up in impressive fashion to take the pressure off his rookie quarterback.

“We’re healthier,” coach Lovie Smith said this week. “Did we have all our guys the first time around? No. (Tackle) Maliek Collins didn’t play. (Linebacker) Christian Harris is older. Some of the younger players that were playing then, they’ve played a lot more football. We  didn’t play our best ball last time, and we’re playing better football right now.”

Henry protected Willis in that first AFC South game. In his first start, Willis completed 6-of-10 for 55 yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass, but he was intercepted once and sacked three times. He ran five times for 12 yards. In his second start at Kansas City, the Titans lost 20-17. Willis was 5-of-16 for 80 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.

Because Tannehill is nursing an ankle injury that caused him to get carted off the field in Sunday’s loss to the Chargers, Willis is expected to start again with Josh Dobbs serving as the backup. No matter who plays quarterback for Tennessee, the Texans know trying to contain Henry for the first time since the first game of the 2019 season is their top priority.

Henry’s first triple-digit game against the Texans was in 2017, his second season. In a 24-13 Tennessee victory, he carried 11 times for 109 yards and a touchdown.

Just what is it about the Texans that brings out the best in Henry?

Smith, like defensive coordinators before him – Romeo Crennel, Mike Vrabel, and Anthony Weaver – wishes he knew why Henry is able to rampage through the Texans’ defense like an out-of-control locomotive roaring down the tracks.

For possible answers to the Henry question, let’s start with Vrabel’s offensive philosophy. When Vrabel left the Texans in January of 2018 to become Tennessee’s head coach, Henry was entering his third season. Vrabel believes in having a consistently productive running game that chews up the clock. Then, it’s having a powerful 6-3, 247-pound mentally and physically tough back who can carry out Vrabel’s mission week in and week out against defenses designed to stop him.

It doesn’t matter who’s in the lineup for the Titans; defensive coaches and players know their priority is to run the ball. When Henry missed the second half of last season, the Titans were still among the league leaders in rushing.

“They’re going to come into the game with a physical mentality,” linebacker Christian Kirksey said. “We all know that’s the Titans. They’re going to try to run the ball, and for us, we have to stop the run. It hasn’t been our strongest point, but we have to make sure to come into this game with the mentality that it’s going to be a physical game.”

As Kirksey pointed out, stopping the run hasn’t been their “strongest point.” Actually, it’s been the defense’s primary weakness for a third consecutive season. The Texans are last in run defense, allowing 167.5 yards a game. This is the third season in succession the Texans have been last or next to last in run defense. Henry has played a significant role in that depressing statistic.

When Kirksey was asked about containing Henry, he said, “All 11 to the ball. Play behind our pads, play physical, play relentless and make sure he doesn’t become a spark in the game. It’s pretty much the same deal when you’re playing a good back like that.”

Because the Titans traded receiver A.J. Brown – one of the best in the NFL – to Philadelphia, Henry has taken on a more substantial role in the passing game. He’s already established career highs with 30 catches for 379 yards and a 12.6 average per catch.

Henry enters Saturday’s game second in the league in rushing behind Las Vegas’ Josh Jacobs. Henry has 1,303 yards, 192 behind Jacobs. By the time the Raiders play at Pittsburgh on Christmas Eve, there’s a good chance Henry will have bypassed Jacobs with a fifth consecutive 200-yard performance against the Texans.

(John McClain writes four columns a week for He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.

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