Run Game Not Crossing the Line

David Boclair

NASHVILLE – It is not for lack of effort.

The Tennessee Titans are one of two teams that have not scored a rushing touchdown through the first week of the 2020 NFL season (Chicago is the other). Yet they have run the ball more than most.

Derrick Henry leads the league with 58 carries and Tennessee is tied for third as a team with 68 runs. Still, there is only one team among the top 10 in rushing attempts that has scored fewer than two touchdowns on the ground – and it is the Titans.

“We'd like to be obviously as efficient as we possibly can and gain as many yards as we can,” coach Mike Vrabel said this week, when asked about the run game. “But you have to stay balanced and you have to know that and have some of that faith and confidence that (Henry) is going break one and continue to coordinate it and work it each and every week and make it better.”

Not that things have been bad, mind you.

The Titans (2-0) have scored touchdowns on six of seven red zone possessions thus far, which has them tied for second in success rate (85.7) at the start of Week 3. Every one of their touchdowns against Denver and Jacksonville have been on pass plays.

On the opening drive Sunday against Jacksonville, they had two red zone snaps – a Henry run for one yard and a 13-yard touchdown reception by Jonnu Smith. The same was true on the next drive, when Corey Davis’ 9-yard touchdown catch followed a 3-yard Henry run.

In all, Tennessee’s offense has run 24 plays from their opponents’ 20-yard line or closer, 13 of them have been handoffs to Henry. Yet the goal line has only been reachable through the air.

“When you have a back like (Henry), a guy who does so much for us, the threat of him running is huge whether it be in the field in our play-action game or down (near) the goal line – being able to run it in or use play action to throw over the top,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “We all know that's kind of our gameplan week in week out is to get the run going. Obviously, you have to play off that and how the game is going, but every week we want to try to hand the ball to (Henry) and let him work.”

The Titans had the NFL’s best red zone offense in 2019, due in no small part to Henry, who tied for the league lead with 16 rushing touchdowns. Six times, he ran it in from the 1-yard line and 13 times he did so from inside the opponents’ 20.

However, Henry also showed he could score from pretty much anywhere en route to the 2019 rushing title. His other three rushing touchdowns covered 53, 68 and 74 yards.

The big plays have yet to develop this year either. Henry’s longest run has been for 14 yards, and he has just four gains of 10 yards or more.

“They'll come,” Henry said Thursday. “Sometimes things like this happen during the season where we might have a little adversity, things might not be going the way we want them to or think they should be going. But that's just up to us fixing things, improving, watching film, seeing things we need to get better at.”

The offense scored at least one rushing touchdown in each of last season’s first three games and 13 out of 16 overall. At no time did it go without one in consecutive contests.

If Henry – or someone else – can’t run it in Sunday against Minnesota, it will be the first time since 2015 that Tennessee goes three straight games without a rushing touchdown.

“I think we all (are) just focused on improving, getting better each week,” Henry said. “That's what we want to do as a whole and that's what we're going to continue to work on. Eventually things will happen, but just focus on improving, getting better, and getting better as a whole, and eventually it will happen for us.”

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