There are not many secrets to the Tennessee Titans' offense. The unit revolves around running back Derrick Henry, and it will be on the Washington Commanders' defensive front to figure out a way to stop him.
As Henry has shown over the past three seasons, that is no simple task. However, the Commanders' defense is ready to take it on.
"The guy is really big, really fast and talented," said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. "He understands how to run, how to set up blocks. I don't want to make it more than it is. There are a lot of talented running backs in the league, but he's certainly right up there with the best in our game. It's gonna be a big challenge."
Henry, who rushed for 2,027 yards in 2020, is coming off a foot injury that kept him sidelined for much of the 2021 season. That has not prevented him from being the focal point of the Titans' offense, as he has averaged nearly 100 scrimmage yards per contest.
It has been four years since Daron Payne, who also was at Alabama with Henry in 2015, played against the Titans running back, but he has noticed nothing different about the way he runs. He is just as big and physical as he was in 2018, when he rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown in Tennessee's 25-16 victory.
"You gotta definitely bring your pads behind you when you tackle him," Payne said. "He's smart, too. He knows how to jump cut and do all those things. He's definitely a back that you gotta prepare for."
The Commanders have looked turbulent overall, but the past two weeks have featured some improvements on defense, particularly in the run game. Against the Dallas Cowboys, Payne and the Commanders' front held the duo of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard to a combined 55 rushing yards.
Payne knows that to beat the Titans and improve to 2-3, the Commanders will need to have an answer for Henry.
"He's really their offense," Payne said. "We already know it's gonna be a big focus on getting him the ball."
Not only is Henry one of the biggest running backs Washington will see all season (he is 6-foot-3 and nearly 250 pounds), but he is also deceptively fast and can escape outside the tackles when necessary. So, head coach Ron Rivera wants his players to practice discipline in the same manner that they did in Week 3 against Jalen Hurts, who was limited to just 20 yards on nine carries.
"You gotta make sure you're in your creases," Rivera said. "You gotta make sure that you're squared up in your creases. You don't want to be getting to there as he's already there, because then you'll end up in an arm tackle and, and as you've seen, he goes right through arm tackles."
To Rivera's point, Henry has 114 broken tackles and 3,337 yards after contact since 2018, which accounts for 57% of his yardage in that span.
"You're in a good football position and you deliver a nice tackle, head up everything, seeing what you're hitting, and you give yourself a chance to stop this guy," Rivera said.