HOUSTON (AP) — Ranked dead last in run defense, things are likely to get even worse for the one-win Houston Texans when they host Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
Josh Jacobs torched Houston (1-4-1) for 143 yards and three second-half touchdowns to lead the Raiders to a 38-20 win last week.
Now a run defense that is allowing a whopping 164.7 yards a game will have to deal with Henry, a player who has long dominated the Texans.
Henry has 1,035 yards and nine touchdowns on 170 carries in just 10 career games against Houston. Henry missed both meetings against the Texans last season with a foot injury, but has run for at least 200 yards in his last three games against Houston — capped by a career-high 250 in the 2020 season finale.
In those three games, he has combined for 673 yards rushing with seven touchdowns. Another big game Sunday would make him the first player in NFL history to have at least two TD runs in four straight games against the same team and the first to have at least 150 yards rushing in four games in a row against a single opponent.
Houston coach Lovie Smith said Henry is “headed” in the direction of being one of the best running backs to ever play.
“You just look at the best backs in the league right now, he will be a part of that debate,” Smith said. “He’s as big as our defensive ends. Has as good of speed as some of our skill guys. Plays hard, pads low to the ground. These are the kind of guys that as I talk about having an opportunity to play against some of the all-time greats, we look forward to competing against him also.”
Henry, who ranks fourth in the NFL with 536 yards rushing, has run for at least 100 yards in Tennessee’s last three games to help the Titans (4-2) to a four-game winning streak after opening the season 0-2. He could be even more important to Tennessee’s offense this week with quarterback Ryan Tannehill dealing with a sprained right ankle.
Tannehill thinks Henry is returning to form after missing last season’s final nine games with a broken foot.
“It looks like it to me,” Tannehill said. “He is running hard. He is running physical. These latest games, you can kind of see him getting that attitude back and punishing people, running through arm tackles, breaking tackles and getting to that second level. It is good to see Derrick being Derrick.”
Tannehill left Sunday’s game in a walking boot and missed practice Wednesday, but is likely to start against Houston.
“I am headed in the right direction,” he said. “I have got a little ways to go, but I have been better and I have been worse.”
The Titans had the NFL’s worst defense on third-down conversions in 2020, allowing opponents to convert 51.9% of the time against them. That’s no longer a problem.
Tennessee currently leads the NFL with the stingiest unit on third down, allowing conversions only 27.7% of the time. The Titans held the Colts to 4 of 13 on third down last week and Washington to 1 of 11 (9.1%) before their bye week.
Both teams have had a tough time scoring in the fourth quarter this season.
The Titans have been outscored 20-6 in the final period. Tennessee has scored in the fourth quarter in just one game this season and that came with two field goals in last week’s win over the Colts.
Houston has been outscored 58-17 in the fourth quarter. The Texans were outscored 21-0 in the final period Sunday to allow the Raiders to run away with a win after trailing by three points after three quarters.
“Believe me, after one if we knew exactly what that was, we would’ve fixed it,” Smith said. “We’re just going to keep plugging away. You group them all together, it doesn’t look good. There has been one game … where we did finish. So, we’ve done it before. If you’ve done it one time, you should be able to do it again.”
RUN ON US
Tennessee is setting opponents up for that third-down success by stopping the run. The Titans currently rank fourth in the NFL holding opponents to 96.8 yards per game, and they didn’t allow reigning NFL rushing champ Jonathan Taylor to reach 100 yards in either of his games against them. He combined for 100 yards in two games over the past month against Tennessee.
While Henry is the star of this weekend’s running back show, Houston’s Dameon Pierce has already established himself as one of the league’s top runners early this season.
The fourth-round pick from Florida leads all rookies and ranks sixth in the NFL with 504 yards rushing.
“If there is space in there, he usually finds it,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “He runs hard through the second level, whether that is behind his pads or spins. He is a great challenge.”
NOT SO EXPLOSIVE
Tennessee ranks next to last defending the pass, giving up 277.5 yards per game. A big part of that has been the defense letting opponents complete too many long passes downfield.
With the return of starter Amani Hooker from the concussion protocol last week, the Titans moved him from safety alongside Kevin Byard to the slot. That helped the Titans keep the Colts from going deep, limiting Indianapolis’ longest play to 20 yards.
AP Pro Football Writer Teresa Walker contributed to this story.
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