In a quarterback-driven league, Derrick Henry is unlikely to win Most Valuable Player.
But the Tennessee Titans’ running back is perhaps the most feared player out there, as the Baltimore Ravens found out on Nov. 22. His 29-yard touchdown run with 4:39 left in overtime gave Tennessee a 30-24 win in Baltimore.
The Ravens get a second date with Henry on Sunday when the teams meet in the first round of the AFC playoffs in Nashville, Tenn. And prideful veterans such as defensive end Calais Campbell know exactly what they’re facing.
“Derrick Henry is one of the best running backs to ever play this game,” Campbell said. “He’s in a zone right now. I take pride in the challenge of trying to slow him down.”
Hardly anyone has slowed him this year. Henry became the eighth back in NFL history to rush for more than 2,000 yards, finishing with 2,027 courtesy of a 250-yard performance last week in a 41-38 victory at Houston that clinched the Titans’ first AFC South title since 2008.
Henry’s historic season made Tennessee (11-5) the first team to boast two 2,000-yard rushers. Chris Johnson accomplished the feat in 2009, when he compiled 2,006 yards. The difference was that Johnson’s yards came in an 8-8 season in which the Titans started 0-5 and were out of the playoffs before Week 17.
Henry’s yardage enabled Tennessee to earn its first home playoff game since 2008. That game was also against the Ravens, who toppled the top-seeded Titans 13-10 to earn a spot in the AFC title game.
It was coach John Harbaugh’s first year in Baltimore, and it was a symbol of many of his 139 wins, which includes 10 in the playoffs: Tough, physical and uncompromising.
“It’s been a very physical, very tough rivalry over the years,” Harbaugh said, “and I don’t think too much has changed.”
The former AFC Central rivals have been a mirror image for most of the last 20 years, built on defense and the running game. But the Titans have pivoted somewhat from that mold this year, instead outscoring most teams with a top five offense and a bottom 10 defense.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill enjoyed the best year of his career, throwing for 3,819 yards and 33 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. A.J. Brown collected 1,075 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns, while Corey Davis added 984 yards in the air.
Meanwhile, the Ravens (11-5) enter the playoffs with five wins in a row and the league’s top running attack at 191.9 yards per game. Their offense has found last year’s rhythm during the winning streak, racking up 37.2 points per game.
Baltimore blew out Cincinnati 38-3 in Week 17, rolling up a club-record 404 rushing yards and becoming just the fourth team to break the 400 mark in a game since 1950. Rookie J.K. Dobbins compiled a season-high 160 yards and two scores on just 13 carries.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson added 97 yards on the ground while throwing for 113 yards and three touchdowns, giving him a second straight 1,000-yard season rushing at 1,005.
Simply put, this game figures to be a fascinating contrast of rushing attacks.
“I expect a physical slugfest,” Tennessee guard Rodger Saffold said. “When it comes to the playoffs, we know that we need to earn everything. People know that we are a great running team, and they are going to give us their best shot every time.”