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Stopping Derrick Henry Is Easier Said Than Done; Do the Jaguars Have A Chance?

The Jacksonville Jaguars know on paper what it will take to shut down Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry. The execution is where plans get lost. But this might be the Jags best chance to do so as they look for their first win.

“You see that cart over there,” ask Rayshawn Jenkins, pointing towards an impressively sized equipment cart 15-yards away.

“Don’t off running full speed and try to tackle that cart.”

That’s how Jenkins, the Jacksonville Jaguars starting free safety describes tackling Derrick Henry.

The Tennessee Titans running back is the league’s leading rusher, a 6-3, 247 pound Mack truck—or equipment cart—that can juke a defender at the second level and lay a lethal stiff arm to any mere mortal that dares approach him in the open field. He’s someone Jaguars Head Coach Urban Meyer describes as “a monster,” with “one of the best combinations of size and speed.”

And the plan to beat him is simple…in theory. It’s one the Jaguars and every other team in the league has attempted to employ. Hit him hard and hit him quick. The Titans make no bones about what their offensive plan is; instead they just dare you to try to stop “King Henry.”

“It’s a smash mouth, knock you back. They’re going to tell you when they’re running the ball,” explains Jaguars defensive coordinator Joe Cullen. “They’re going to tell you when they’re running the ball there, they’re going to say, ‘Can you stop it?’”

Many a man has come away humbled when trying. Instead it takes an entire defensive effort. And as the Jaguars welcome the Titans—and Henry—on Sunday, they’ll do so knowing from history what it takes to stop him…and hoping to actually make it happen this time.

“We can’t let him get started. That’s much easier to say,” admits Meyer.

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“They want to be the bully and they do a great job at it. They’re going to run stretch, they’re going to run zone, they’re going to run it ‘till the cows come home, until you stop it. And it’s physicality,” added Cullen, “That’s what it is. Especially when you’ve got [No.] 22 back there.”

To limit 22, it takes all 11. Jenkins—laughingly admitting that as a safety, he doesn’t necessarily want to be left to take on Henry one-on-one in the backfield—breaks down the importance of run fits to stopping Henry.

“It’ll be very important man, we just have to all trust each other across the board, across the field. All 11 hats to do their job. We can’t have one guy getting nosey and hop out of a gap cause [Henry’s] so good, he can see a backside gap that you might not see and he see’s it. Now he’s hit it and now he’s one on one with you and now, it’s gonna be a hard down,” chuckles Jenkins. “Just everybody trusting each other and really being on our fits and our game plan.”

The Jaguars have historically had better luck with Henry early in the year. Last season for example, in the December meeting, Henry ran for 215 on Jacksonville. In the week two matchup, the defense held the running back to 84 yards on 25 carries (average of 3.4 per carry) and no touchdowns, which was his fifth lowest output of the season.

Related: Derrick Henry and His Stiff Arm Are Stronger In December — Can the Jaguars Stop Him?

In 2019, Henry racked up 159 yards and two touchdowns on 19 touches (average 8.4 per carry) in late November. In mid-September of that season, the Jags held Henry to his second worst game of the year, 44 yards on 17 rushes (average 2.6 per carry). It was the last time the Jaguars defeated the Titans.

So as the the Jaguars look for their first win of this season, they do so knowing it will take stopping Derrick Henry. And with a new defensive scheme under Cullen that allows for more spies to help in the run game, they prepare knowing this might be their best chance to stop him.

“This one’s going to be huge. We’ve been executing in practice,” brags outside linebacker Josh Allen. “We have a good game plan going on this week dealing with [Titans RB] Derrick Henry and that Tennessee offense. We’re just looking forward for this week and just go out there just to have fun and just enjoy it.”