On Monday Night Football, we saw the Buffalo Bills blow out the Tennessee Titans 41-7. Just as impressively we witnessed the Bills’ defense hold running back Derrick Henry to 1.9 yards per attempt on 13 carries. Jason McCourty from Good Morning Football pointed out that Monday night was Henry’s worst game statistically in his last 50 starts. He was a non-factor the entire night. Stifled. So how was Buffalo able to bottle up Henry to the tune such woeful numbers? Let’s look at the tape!
The running game is all about creating a numbers advantage. The Titans do a toss sweep to the left side here. This is a beautiful play call for Tennessee because they have a fullback lead blocking for Henry and an offensive tackle pulling out to block as well. This creates a three-on-two numbers advantage in favor of the Titans against the Bills, who only have linebacker Matt Milano and cornerback Christian Benford up to engage both blockers. Benford flips the numbers advantage in Buffalo’s favor by absorbing the fullback’s block and then shedding him. This now turns into a one-on-one situation with Henry versus Benford. The rookie corner makes a fantastic play. Benford tackles Henry low and brings him to the ground.
With a rushing attack, the offensive line needs to provide push so the running back has room to operate. A player like Henry never wants to stop his feet. In this play, the Bills stuff the middle with EDGE Von Miller, and defensive tackles DaQuan Jones and Jordan Phillips. If Henry goes left safety Micah Hyde and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds are there waiting for him. With this play Henry goes right. There is no space to go right and Henry gets swallowed up by defensive end Greg Rousseau on a cleanup tackle. When you’re dealing with a great player like Henry, you need to make sure there is little to no space for him to make a move.
One of the things that makes Henry so tough is his sheer size and power standing at 6-3 and 247 lbs. Henry is almost impossible to stop when he gets a full head of steam and reaches max acceleration in the open field. Henry gets the ball in shotgun, then goes right with a pretty sizeable hole to run through. Hyde does a fantastic job of stopping Henry from getting to the second level of the defense. Micah Hyde reads his keys and flies into the hole to tackle Henry low. What’s important to remember is if Hyde comes late, he can’t stop Henry. Then Henry would likely run through Rousseau’s arm tackle and get a head of steam in the open field, where he is most dangerous.
One of the biggest things that can kill a running game is penetration in the backfield. You never want a running back to be in a position where he’s has to make people miss before he crosses the line of scrimmage. Here we have the Titans try another toss sweep to the left side. Miller splits the tight end and offensive tackle and gets into the backfield. Miller then makes the one-on-one tackle on Henry low, resulting in the tackle for a loss.
Knowing your scouting report is important when facing someone like Henry. You never tackle Henry high because then he can use his stiff arm and run you over. To combat that, you of course tackle Henry low. On a routine handoff, Henry comes downhill and we see Kaiir Elam meet him in the hole. Henry puts out his arm for a potential stiff arm, then Elam lowers his level going for a tackle below the waist.
Henry is a truly special running back and has well earned his reputation over the years as being the best at his position and among the NFL’s offensive elite. The Titans know this and, as a result, they play through him a lot. The Bills did a fantastic job of shutting down Henry and making life difficult. You make sure there is no space for him to run. You have to beat their blockers man on man and you have to be able to tackle Henry low. No matter what, you can’t let him get to the second and third levels of the defense with a full head of steam. Buffalo did all of these things almost perfectly. That’s how they held one of the best players in the league to 1.9 yards per rush.