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Plays that shaped the game: Derrick Henry shows Bills why he's NFL rushing king

Plays that shaped the game: Derrick Henry shows Bills why he's NFL rushing king

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Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) rushes for a touchdown against Buffalo Bills during the third quarter at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021.

Derrick Henry dominated Monday night’s game when he was on the field – whether he carried the ball or not.

The Tennessee Titans’ star running back did to the Buffalo Bills what he has been doing to virtually every defense the past 2 1/2 seasons.

The past 41 games, dating to Week 14 of 2018, he has 43 touchdowns and 4,935 rushing yards, an average of 120 a game.

He gained 143 yards and scored three touchdowns in the Titans’ 34-31 victory over the Bills.

Henry scores touchdowns despite the fact defenses are ganging up on him unlike any other back in the NFL. He did it again on his 76-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

It was his sixth rushing touchdown on plays when the box was stacked, meaning eight or more defenders lined up near the line of scrimmage between the tackle-to-tackle area. Last year, he had 10 TDs against stacked boxes. In 2019, he had 12. All of those were tops in the NFL.

Henry now has 783 rushing yards and 10 rushing TDs in five games. That’s 260 more yards than the next closest rusher and twice as many TDs as the next man.

Here's a closer look at some of the big plays in the Bills’ loss:

It’s good to be king. On the long TD run, Bills defensive left end Greg Rousseau didn’t hold containment, getting blocked out of position by tight end Geoff Swaim. That gave Henry a big crease off right tackle. Receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine blocked Jordan Poyer to the ground. Poyer was calling for a holding foul. Linebacker Matt Milano got stuck inside of Rousseau.

On the other side of the formation, Tre’Davious White probably would have been able to tackle Henry and keep him to a 15- or 20-yard gain. But White got blocked by Julio Jones.

Coach Sean McDermott appeared to be upset that there were no flags thrown for holding against either Poyer or White.

The 22 effect. Henry has a huge impact on short-yardage plays on which he doesn’t get the ball.

On a fourth-and-2 play from the Bills’ 29 late in the third quarter, Ryan Tannehill completed a 14-yard pass to A.J. Brown to the Buffalo 15. The Bills’ defense expected Henry to get the ball. The Titans faked a handoff to Henry, and that created a huge void behind the surging linebackers to complete the pass.

Two plays later, it was another play-action to Brown for 19 yards. That set up a field goal that pulled the Titans within 31-27.

On the next drive, a first-down play-action fake to Henry drew both Matt Milano and Poyer toward the line of scrimmage and created a 23-yard pass to Brown. Poyer almost got back into position to tip the pass, but not quite.

Brick wall call. The biggest, best defensive lineman on the Titans is tackle Jeffery Simmons, a first-round pick from 2019 who has showed flashes of total dominance in his two-plus years in the NFL.

Why the Bills decided to run Josh Allen’s quarterback sneak at his gap on their fourth-and-1 play from the Tennessee 3 was hard to understand.

Simmons got off the ball fast and beat Dion Dawkins to the hole. But Simmons often beats linemen off the snap of the ball. It didn’t help that Allen’s foot slipped a bit.

Confusion central. A rash of injuries to defensive backs cost the Titans on the 30-yard touchdown pass from Allen to Cole Beasley late in the second quarter.

The Titans already were without No. 1 cornerback Kristian Fulton, who was put on injured reserve before the game. Then his replacement, first-round draft pick Caleb Farley, went out with a knee injury early in the second quarter.

So when Beasley went in motion to the right side of the formation, there was confusion among the defensive backs, and rookie backup Elijah Molden was late getting over to cover Beasley. Jackrabbit Jenkins, a cornerback, was in deep-half coverage on the back end.

When Allen scrambled out of the pocket to the right, both Molden and Jenkins had their eyes on the quarterback, and Beasley was wide open in the end zone. Easy score.

Target practice. Trailing 24-23 late in the third quarter, the Bills attacked another backup cornerback, Breon Borders, on a third-and-7 play from the Titans’ 44. Stefon Diggs ran a go route, Borders was beaten and grabbed him inside the 10. It was a 39-yard penalty that set up the Bills’ go-ahead touchdown.

Misread. Ryan Tannehill made a mistake against a Bills’ Cover 3 look late in the first quarter when he forced a throw down the deep middle for Julio Jones.

Poyer was in the deep middle all the way and made an easy interception. Efe Obada helped the Bills’ cause a bit, getting inside on his pass rush against right tackle David Queesenberry, which didn’t give Tannehill a clean pocket in which to step up.

Points off the board. It was a fair penalty call on Emmanuel Sanders for holding, which wiped out a touchdown run by Dawson Knox in the second quarter.

Too bad, because the foul negated a nice play design, which saw Knox take an end-around handoff to left end and reach the pylon on the goal line. Sanders got his hands on the outside and back side of the shoulders of cornerback Caleb Farley.

That put the Bills in a first-and-goal situation from the 15, and they were forced to settle for their second field goal.

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Bills/NFL writer

Gaughan's insight is featured in the "PlayAction" video series, providing analysis to get Bills fans ready for the next game. He is past president of the Pro Football Writers of America and served as a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector for 12 years.

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