Will Derrick Henry break 2,000 rushing yards this season?

Seven. That’s how many runners in the history of the NFL have achieved the vaunted 2,000-yard rushing milestone. The last to do it was Adrian Peterson in 2012, when he carried his Minnesota Vikings to a 10-6 record and a playoff appearance, winning MVP along the way.

Derrick Henry currently sits at 1,679 yards through 14 games. 321 rushing yards are all that separate him from this elite group. Over the Titans’ last two games, Henry has totaled 362 yards on the ground. Can he average 160.5 in the final two contests to reach this historic milestone?

A few weeks back, Mike wrote how Henry’s 2,000-yard season was possible but may conflict with the Titans goals. Three weeks later, Henry hasn’t quite maintained the pace he needed — 148.6 yards per game — largely due to the Week 13 “stinker” against the Browns. But since then, he’s surpassed the 160.5 average he needs to get there with a 181 average over his last two.

Before we look at how it could happen, let’s look at what might prevent the Titans from being the first franchise in NFL history with two members of the 2,000-yard club.

Workload Management

Late last year, the Titans elected to give Henry a week off to nurse a nagging hamstring injury. It was a meaningless Week 16 game; although the Titans were battling to reach the playoffs, due to a weird tiebreaker quirk, the matchup with the NFC’s Saints meant nothing for the Titans’ playoff hopes. So they sat him out.

That short break before the postseason keyed an incredible stretch for the Titans workhorse: Henry seized the rushing title in Week 17 with a 211-yard, 3-touchdown performance, followed that up with 182 yards to lead Tennessee over New England, then became the first player with 180+ in three straight games the following week with 195 yards against Baltimore.

This season, Henry has no nagging hamstring injury, but the Titans may have a reason to manage his workload. He’s toted the rock 321 times, already a career high. How much more will the Titans ride him down the final stretch, with 10 wins already secured and needing just one more (or any of a few others to lose) to officially clinch a playoff berth?

Rookie running back Darrynton Evans made his return to the lineup last week and looked pretty good with the ball in his hands. The Titans may elect to increase Evans’ touches to catch him up to NFL game speed more quickly ahead of the postseason.

They know how important Henry is to the team’s success in the playoffs. The fresher he is for that stretch, the better for the Titans.

If the Steelers beat the Colts…

In the early window on Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Indianapolis Colts as home underdogs for the first time this year. The Colts have won three straight to keep pace with the Titans atop the AFC South, while the Steelers have dropped three straight to fall to 11-3 on the year.

At the moment, it certainly seems like Indianapolis is the better team. But we also just saw the Jets upset the Rams and the Bengals upset the… well, the Steelers.

However unlikely you may think it, it’s also hard to win four games in a row, which Indianapolis will be trying to do. It’s also hard for “good” teams to lose four in a row, which Pittsburgh will be trying to avoid. So let’s just go with it for a moment.

If the Steelers beat the Colts, the Titans will have an opportunity to clinch the AFC South by beating Green Bay on Sunday night. If they are successful, I think we can close the door on a 2,000-yard season. Even if Henry plays in Week 17 to avoid the “too much rest” problem in the playoffs, there’s little chance he plays enough to get to 2K.

As Mike wrote three weeks ago, it’s much better for the Titans — who didn’t have a real bye week this year because of their COVID-19 outbreak — if they can clinch ahead of Week 17 and rest their best players.

So as much fun as it would be to write “DH2K,” it would be more fun to secure a home playoff game in advance of Week 17.

“On Pace Guy”

I don’t want to be “on pace guy,” but this is the final barrier to Henry smashing through the 2,000-yard wall: his production to this point.

Henry needs to average 160.5 yards in each of the next two games because as it stands now, he’s well short of the per-game pace needed to reach 2,000 yards (125 yards/game). Take a look at his numbers compared to the previous 2K achievers:

SeasonPlayerTeamGamesAtt.Yds.TDsY/AY/GFumb.
1973O. J. SimpsonBuffalo Bills143322,003126143.17
1984Eric DickersonLos Angeles Rams163792,105145.6131.614
1997Barry SandersDetroit Lions163352,053116.1128.33
1998Terrell DavisDenver Broncos163922,008215.1125.52
2003Jamal LewisBaltimore Ravens163872,066145.3129.18
2009Chris JohnsonTennessee Titans163582,006145.6125.43
2012Adrian PetersonMinnesota Vikings163482,097126131.14
2020*Derrick HenryTennessee Titans143211679155.2119.91
Stats from Wikipedia and Pro Football Reference.

As you can see, Henry is well behind his peers on this chart in basically everything but touchdowns (he would rank seventh of eight in yards per carry) — and fumbles, where he is #elite.

Perhaps working in Henry’s favor, however, is the fact that these folks didn’t have the advantage of finishing the season during D-Henber.

How DH2K could happen…

Alright, enough with the Negative Nancy talk. Let’s take a look at what could key the DH2K season.

Has anyone been following David Montgomery this year? If not, take a look at his splits and then I’ll explain why it’s relevant:

OpponentGamesAtt/GYds/GY/ATDs/G
All other games1116.462.73.80.45
vs GB or HOU211.0108.09.80.5
David Montgomery 2020 rushing stats

In Montgomery’s first nine games, he carried 131 times for 472 yards. Then he played Green Bay and a slew of exploitable run defenses, and he’s been on fire ever since. In his last four games alone, Montgomery has 71 attempts for 434 yards! I isolated the two games against the Titans next two opponents. With just 11 attempts in each of those games, Montgomery ran for over 100 yards in both and averaged 9.8 yards per carry!

A large part of that has to do with Bill Lazor (Cats) taking over as offensive playcaller, but an equally substantial factor, if not more, is the run defenses Montgomery faced.

If Montgomery can obliterate these defenses so handily, I would expect Henry can dominate in these matchups.

It’s proven true in the games the Titans already played against teams from this list. Tennessee is fresh off a game against Jacksonville, where Henry ran for 215 yards. Even fresher is the win over Detroit, where Henry ran for 147 yards and hardly played on the team’s final possessions.

Against teams that don’t defend the run very well, Henry simply feasts. He’s already run for over 200 yards against the Texans once this season. And he gets Green Bay, the “toughest” matchup on this list, on Sunday night.

So can Henry actually get to 2,000 yards? If the Titans are still playing meaningful football in Houston on January 3rd, I not only think he can, I think he will.

And if he does become the eighth player in NFL history to hit 2K, he absolutely deserves to win MVP.

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