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The Tennessee Titans played their first of what will be several games without Derrick Henry on Sunday night, and because they won that game against the Los Angeles Rams in an unequivocal brawl, it would be truly irresponsible to move on. following paragraph without again acknowledging this achievement: The Titans, playing without the rhino of a running back so central to their identity, traveled across the country and overwhelmed the Rams – as in the Rams who had lost once since. Labor Day – by 28-16 at SoFi Stadium.
But while they miss Henry dearly, it’s instructive to remember that the Tennessee roster is populated on both sides of the ball with plenty of other tall, nimble men who are skilled at what they do. The same men who helped the Titans (7-2) thwart Indianapolis last week – and demolish Kansas City the week before, and survive Buffalo the week before, and rout Jacksonville the week before – have them helped make up for Henry’s absence and administer a loss that resonated throughout the league.
It resonated because the titans’ defensive front, one of the largest in the NFL, made sure they won a fifth straight game to stay atop the AFC, as the only team with seven wins in the conference, halfway through this 18-week season.
With Jeffery Simmons strangling Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford in the middle and Denico Autry nagging him from the edge, the Titans have trashed his offensive line without the need for a blitz. Holding the Rams highscore without touchdown until the last 24 seconds, Tennessee sacked Stafford five times – Los Angeles had allowed eight in their first eight games – and otherwise tormented him to such an extent. in the second quarter, he thought it was wiser to throw a pass into traffic over the goal line than to be sent off for potential safety.
As they did on a similar game a week ago, the Titans grabbed the stray pass and converted it to a touchdown, the first of two they scored in 11 seconds to turn a 3 deficit. -0 in a 14-3 advantage: On the Rams’ next offensive shot, Titans safety Kevin Byard dove past Robert Woods and returned an interception from 24 yards without a touch.
“I hope he doesn’t burn out,” coach Mike Vrabel said of the Titans’ penchant for big defensive plays. “I know you can’t count on it, but again you put enough pressure and I feel it on the sidelines. I feel that kind of pressure.
It was, in other words, the kind of pressure Rams general manager Les Snead wanted last Monday when he acquired board rusher Von Miller from Denver, who was inactive on Sunday with an ankle injury. In a league that rewards draft picks, Snead treats them, preferring the relative certainty of established players to potential, and unknown, college picks. The insistence on winning now and worrying about the future later redoubles the importance of, you know, winning now, and although the Rams (7-2) remain a serious contender, they lost a game behind. the Arizona Cardinals – who won the teams’ first meeting – in the NFC West.
As Snead wrapped up the trade for Miller, the Titans learned the extent of Henry’s injury. Until he broke a bone in his right foot, Henry led the NFL in run attempts, distances and touchdowns, as he did in 2019 and 2020. Asked after Sunday’s game about Henry, Vrabel crumpled his face in a brief scowl, perhaps knowing his answer would violate one of the coach’s unwritten protocols: don’t talk about unavailable players.
“We have evolved since Derrick,” said Vrabel, adding: “The coaches prepared players who weren’t there, and they played in the game and they made plays to help us win.”
Replacing a 2,000-yard rusher with another, the Titans signed Adrian Peterson, 36, who scored their final touchdown three minutes from time. He combined with D’Onta Foreman and Jeremy McNichols, Tennessee’s third normal fullback, to rush for 74 yards on 22 carries.
Just as Henry’s oversized presence defined the Titans, so too will his absence. They gained 194 yards at the low of the season and their longest streak was 44 yards; of their other eight that didn’t start at the Rams’ 2-yard line or consist of a knee down, none went beyond 30. It’s probably not a long-lasting approach. run, but the Titans are a strange team.
As noted by Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders, they have allowed more yards per game this season than they have won, a trend that continued Sunday night (4.7 to 3.5). Tennessee also lost to the Jets, who should have immediately plunged the Titans deep into the AFC, as if they had landed on a slide in Chutes and Ladders.
The Titans are also a good team, although they do win close games and shake up star quarterbacks and make clutch plays – like Amani Hooker’s tackle in space which, with the Rams at 21-9 in the start of the fourth quarter, limited Darrell Henderson to a 2-yard catch on the third and 3 at Tennessee 43; the Titans thwarted Stafford in fourth place.
Their path to the No.1 seed and the resulting home advantage, ever more valuable in a larger playoff setup that grants just one first-round pass, should be manageable, or at least not unmanageable. Next up is a home game against the New Orleans Saints, who will start a quarterback save. After that: Houston, in New England and Jacksonville, before the final quarter of the season.
It is possible that Henry will recover in time to join the Titans in the playoffs. By demonstrating that they can win without him, they’ve improved their odds of winning again – returning to SoFi in February, perhaps, for the Super Bowl – with him.