No Derrick Henry, but Jaguars have to slow Titans running game

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) runs for a touchdown past Tennessee Titans defensive end Denico Autry, left, during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack) (Phelan M. Ebenhack, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Urban Meyer doesn’t have to see Derrick Henry again this season. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the Jaguars still have to face the Titans and find a way to slow down an offense that has found ways to survive without the league’s most dominant running back.

The Jaguars (2-10) visit the Titans (8-4) on Sunday riding a four-game losing streak and regressing weekly on offense. Trips to Nashville haven’t been kind to Jacksonville in recent years. The team hasn’t won there since 2013. The Jaguars also haven’t beaten the Titans since 2019, a four-game losing streak.

Is there an opportunity to end those dubious streaks this week?

Even without Henry in the lineup, Meyer knows the Jaguars must create pressure and clog the running lanes. While Henry has proven an excellent NFL running back, Tennessee’s offensive line is what has Meyer worried.

The Titans rank fifth in the league in rushing yards per game (140.8) and they’re coming off a bye week. In the game before their bye, Tennessee rushed for a season-high 270 yards against the red-hot Patriots.

Even with Tennessee’s by-committee-approach out of the backfield now, Meyer said stopping the ground game early is key for the Jaguars. There’s no gamebreaker like Henry (Dontrell Hilliard, D’Onta Foreman and Adrian Peterson are the team’s top carriers now), but Jacksonville can’t allow Tennessee to find one in his absence.

“Any great running back will tell you that they have a great offensive line and that is one of the best offensive lines in the entire NFL. Very well coached, they ran for 270 against the New England Patriots. I didn’t want to see that,” Meyer said.

“When I saw 22 [RB Derrick Henry], no one wants to see a player hurt but I said, ‘OK, well that guy is down and they are very productive.’ You look at our game against and in the second half we held them to 2.8 yards per carry. First half, they did typical Derrick Henry stuff. We have to hold up against the run.”

Tennessee rushed for 184 yards and three touchdowns against Jacksonville in Week 5, although that was with Henry leading the way. Things have changed for the Titans since, with Henry suffering a foot injury and undergoing surgery following an Oct. 31 game against the Colts.

For Meyer and the Jaguars, they need to make some progress.

Conversation this week has been about the team’s misuse of running back James Robinson, who was benched for a chunk of the first half after losing his second fumble in as many games. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence spoke up about that, saying Jacksonville needs Robinson on the field more.

The Jaguars could also be losing two members of the coaching staff to other positions. Tight ends coach Tyler Bowen and defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi are rumored to be in the mix for other positions; Lupoi at Florida and Bowen at Virginia Tech.

“I am getting phone calls about our staff, that has happened many times. I met with Tosh yesterday and there is no substance to anything. Does that mean he does not get [conversations]? Really good football coaches get conversations,” Meyer said.

“I never stood in the way of [an assistant coach] being a head coach or a coordinator. That is something that is pretty good stuff. Tyler Bowen has been really good for us, but also our focus is on the five weeks and doing the very best we can for our players. Anything after that, we will make those decisions at that time.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.