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NASHVILLE – In a year of unprecedented personnel turnover for the Tennessee Titans, it’s become clear that players lower on the depth chart will have to outperform expectations if the team is to maintain its winning ways.

A number of them already have done so ahead of Sunday’s open date in the schedule, perhaps none in so obvious a manner as running backs Dontrell Hilliard and D’Onta Foreman in last Sunday’s loss to New England.

The basic facts are clear enough. Hilliard (12 carries, 131 yards) and Foreman (19 carries, 109 yards) each topped the 100-yard mark against a Patriots team that had not allowed a single 100-yard rusher this season. In so doing, they became the Titans’ first duo with at least 100 rushing yards each in the same game since Chris Johnson and LenDale White did so against Detroit on Nov. 27, 2008.

But the accomplishments of Hilliard and Foreman are even more impressive when viewed with respect to the NFL’s advanced statistics – especially yards gained above expectation.

How exactly are expected rushing yards configured on a given rushing play?

The NFL began using the metric last season (and then applied it to earlier years), after engineering a mathematical formula derived from what was expected from a ball-carrier on any given carry -- based on the relative location, speed and direction of blockers and defenders.

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Keeping that definition in mind, Hilliard finished first in the NFL last weekend with 67 rushing yards over expectation against the Patriots, highlighted by 62 yards over expectation on his 68-yard touchdown run. It was the seventh-most rushing yards over expectation gained on a single play this season, per Next Gen Stats.

Foreman finished right behind Hilliard when it came to rushing yards above expectation in Week 12, totaling 36 on his 19 carries.

One more significant stat shows the backs weren’t just one-hit wonders when it came to rushing yards over expectation: Hilliard totaled yards over expectation on 60 percent of his carries against the Patriots, while Foreman did so on 52.6 percent of his rushes as the Titans totaled a season-best 270 rushing yards against New England.

“There was a lot of contact at one or two yards that ended up in five or six-yard runs,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “They ran hard. We pushed some piles. We hit a couple explosive runs but obviously those get overshadowed because of some of the way those drives ended.”

The numbers for Hilliard and Foreman from last Sunday, obviously, represent an extremely small sample size. Yet it’s interesting to see how they stack up to what Derrick Henry in the eight games he played.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Next Gen Stats model gives Henry just 11 yards gained over expectation in the eight games he played this season, a total that ranks 21st in the league. Henry finished first in yards gained over expectation in both 2019 (305 yards) and 2020 (411 yards).

No sane person is suggesting the Hilliard-Foreman combination will be better in the long haul than a healthy Henry.

But if the newcomers can continue to exceed expectations on any kind of consistent basis, it will go a long way toward keeping the Titans among the AFC’s elite teams.