Derrick Henry, Titans present formidable 1st test for Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals are finally back playing meaningful games after an offseason filled with change and littered with surprise.
First on the docket, the Tennessee Titans.
The Titans are coming off an 11-5 record but watched their season come to an unceremonious end in a 20-13 Wild Card loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Hoping to avoid a similar situation this season, Tennessee went out looking for improvement on both sides of the football.
Much like the Cardinals, the Titans added a pair of proven hands and some key defensive pieces to the mix. Being just two years removed from an AFC Championship berth, Tennessee is close to knocking on the door once again, though the window is closing with every passing season.
“Physical team. They have been really, really good the last few years,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Monday. [Tennessee head] coach [Mike] Vrabel has done a tremendous job building that culture.
“They fly around the football in all three phases and have one of the best running backs in the game and just acquired one of the best receivers [Julio Jones]. The quarterback [Ryan Tannehill] has been playing at a Pro Bowl level the last few years. It’s going to be a huge challenge.”
Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury on if weather will play a factor in the team’s Week 1 matchup vs. the Titans: pic.twitter.com/tPlzhhuIfY
— Tyler Drake (@Tdrake4sports) September 10, 2021
Offensively, there really wasn’t much to tweak. That’s what happens when you have a player of running back Derrick Henry’s caliber.
Henry continues to get better with age, coming off of back-to-back NFL rushing titles. Most of the running back’s first four years in the league have been impressive, but he took to new heights in Year 5.
Henry ran the rock 378 times for 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns. He was 470 yards and a score ahead of Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook to take the top spot. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry and multiple stiff arms per game. He earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors for his efforts.
The running back is by far the most important piece to that offense operating like a well-oiled machine. Getting him going early only opens up the playbook for quarterback Ryan Tannehill and his new weapon Julio Jones, who now forms a formidable pair with A.J. Brown.
Jones has made the Pro Bowl seven times in his 10-year career. Since entering the league in 2011, the two-time All-Pro has averaged 84.8 receptions, 1,289.6 yards and six touchdowns per season.
Brown has quickly emerged as a scoring threat himself, posting back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with at least eight touchdowns.
All in all, play action and short third downs is the name of the game for Tennessee, which saw a majority of its conversions come from one to three yards out.
The Titans converted 38 of their 56 third-down attempts inside three yards (67.8%), scoring eight total touchdowns and compiling 363 total yards.
Of the team’s other third-down situations outside of three yards or more, Tennessee recorded just five total touchdowns over 126 attempts.
If there is gonna be an area for the Cardinals to exploit on the Titans, it’ll be on the defensive side of the football.
For all the good they did offensively, it was a completely different story on the other side of the football.
The Titans ended the season with one of the worst defenses in the league, especially in the passing game.
Tennessee gave up 398.3 yards per game through the air. Only three other teams were worse off than the Titans in that regard. They were one of nine teams to allow at least 27 points per outing.
Looking to jumpstart the defense as a whole, the Titans went out and added cornerback Janoris Jenkins and linebacker Bud Dupree this offseason. The pair bring a veteran presence to the defense but have wear-and-tear concerns. Jenkins hasn’t played a full season since 2018, while Dupree is coming off an 11-game season in 2020.
The Titans present a daunting task for the Cardinals in their season opener, but there are opportunities to seize offensively. This game could be a high-scoring affair.