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Redskins' Playoff Hopes Depend On Stopping Derrick Henry


Redskins defensive lineman Jonathan Allen has seen Derrick Henry's ability to bulldoze and ruin opponents up close. When the two were teammates at Alabama, Henry ran the ball 44 times for 189 yards against Florida in 2015.

It wasn't the explosiveness that was a problem for the Gators — Henry averaged only 4.3 yards per carry. It was the former Heisman winner's brute strength that exhausted Florida over the course of the Crimson Tide's 29-15 win.

"The more you feed him, the better he's going to get," Allen said, adding later, "You've got to try and wear him down before he wears you down."

This week, Allen will be among those responsible for stopping the running back as the Redskins face Henry and the Tennessee Titans on Saturday at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.

And over the last two weeks, Henry has played some of his best football to date — rushing for 238 and 170 yards, respectively. In each outing, Henry's size was overpowering, using his 6-foot-3, 247-pound frame to truck opponents.

Against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 6, Henry used two stiff arms to break free for a 99-yard touchdown.

"You've got to bring your lunch pail and hit him," said linebacker Ryan Anderson, who also played with Henry at Alabama. "We're going to have to get a lot of hats to him, you know what I mean? Three, four guys to him at all time.

"It's going to be big on us getting to the ball, disrupting the ball and trying to take the ball away to get some momentum."

Henry hasn't always played this well in the NFL. A second-round pick in 2016, Henry failed to rush for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. Even in 2018, the 24-year-old was averaging just 3.7 yards per carry through Tennessee's first 12 games.

But Titans coach Mike Vrabel said that this recent stretch has helped Henry's confidence. He added the offensive line has blocked well, which has helped create lanes for the back.

Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota's mobility also allows Henry to be successful, Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. Because Mariota presents a threat with his legs, defenses can't be aggressive when attacking the run.

"When he falls forward, he gets four yards, because he's [6-foot-3]," Gruden said.

Last week, Washington did a better job of stopping the run. While they still gave up 172 yards on 26 carries, Jacksonville's leading rusher was quarterback Cody Kessler with 68 yards on six attempts. The Jaguars' main back, Leonard Fournette, earned just 46 yards on 11 carries.

The Redskins were an elite unit earlier this season against the rush. At one point, they led the league in fewest rushing yards allowed per game. Through their first seven games, the defense had allowed just 561 yards (3.8 yards per attempt).

But that hadn't been the case for the last month-and-a-half. Before their win in Jacksonville, the Redskins had allowed 899 yards over the last six games — good for 4.9 yards per carry.

In that stretch, the Redskins hadn't done as good of a job swarming to the ball.

That, however, will be particularly crucial against Henry, given his size. Allen said Henry loves contact and when a player is that big and fast, "it makes it tough for a lot of people."

Allen said the Redskins have to finish their tackles and take Henry head on.

"You can't be scared of him," he said.