Did the Jaguars Put Too Much of a Focus on Stopping Derrick Henry on Sunday?
All week long, the Jacksonville Jaguars' players and coaches made one thing clear in the lead up to Sunday's road battle against the Tennessee Titans: Derrick Henry was priority No. 1.
As a result, it was incredibly unsurprising to see that the Jaguars' entire defensive game plan seemed to center around stopping Henry, who led the league in rushing last season. After all, the last time the Jaguars played Henry, he rushed for 159 yards and two touchdowns on only 19 carries (8.37 yard per carry average).
For the most part, the Jaguars were successful in their quest to prevent Henry from changing the complexion of the game. Henry rushed 25 times for just 84 yards, giving him a 3.4 yard per carry average. Sans a few long runs he had toward the game's end, the Jaguars kept Henry in check thanks to an increased focus on the workhorse back.
"We just committed to the game plan. I mean, coming up here, you know what Tennessee is going to do," Jaguars nose tackle Abry Jones said after the game.
"You know who their bell cow is, and it really just comes down to a commitment by every player on this team that's going to say we want to stop the run, and I feel like we came out here and tried to accomplish that."
But did making Henry a priority end up hurting the Jaguars' defense more than it helped it? There is an argument to make that it did. While the Jaguars stifled Henry more often than not, the defense was at the mercy of Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill saw mostly loaded boxes against the run, which gave him favorable matchups with tight ends and receivers against safeties.
The first play of the game is a perfect example. The Jaguars loaded the box and sent their entire front at Henry while the Titans faked the handoff. Tight end Jonnu Smith, who started the play as a blocker, was then able to sneak out from the backside of the formation and become a wide-open receiver. He would gain 61 yards, setting Tennessee to score the first touchdown of the game just a few plays later.
"I think just with that first play just having it be the first play of the game, definitely thinking of setting the tone early and them showing run, I think we just kind of all downhill, wanted to stop Derrick Henry, wanted to stop the run, and I think it was just a good play call because he was two play side," Jones said.
"I mean, you can run down and play side to stop the run, then you see the boot, everyone is moving towards the quarterback, all he has to do is really hideout and come out late and get the play. I think that was a pretty good first play call by them, but I think as the game went on, we just made sure that everyone on the back end communicated and made sure we were on the same page so we wouldn't just have any easy bombs come and hurt us."
The Jaguars sold out to stop Henry but ended up having field position completely flipped on them as a result. They picked their poison on Sunday, daring Tannehill and the Titans' passing game to beat them. Unfourntaltey for the Jaguars, the Titans did just that.
"I think this game we were probably a little locked in a little bit too into the run, kind of bared our eyes and kind of worked out late to work against the pass. But I think that's just how it is with every game," Jones said.
"I think moving forward we're going to try to focus on that more because I really think that was a real big part of the game. I think our DBs do a good job but we just can't leave them out there covering for about six to ten seconds, so we've got to do a better job getting off those blocks."
Jacksonville stopped Henry just like they wanted to, but Tannehill was able to pick apart their defense (specifically Andrew Wingard) en route to a 18-of-24 passing for 239 yards and four-touchdown performance.
The Jaguars will have a chance to rectify their mistake on Sunday the next time they see the Titans in Week 14 in Jacksonville. Or they could once again make Henry their top priority and hope that they have a better plan to stop Tannehill.
Either way, the Jaguars should now know that the key to beating the Titans is far from just being "stop Henry" Sunday proved that.