EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP)The question posed to Robert Saleh was one lots of coaches around the NFL have failed to answer:
How do you stop Derrick Henry?
That’s the major task at hand for Saleh and the winless New York Jets when the league’s leading rusher comes to MetLife Stadium with his Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
”Oh, man. Have you guys ever seen him in person? Ever?” Saleh said. ”Wait until you guys see this one. He is a massive human being.”
Henry is a 6-foot-3, 247-pound bulldozer with incredible power mixed with tremendous speed. That combination helped him lead the NFL in rushing the past two seasons, and the reigning AP Offensive Player of the Year has picked up where he left off with a league-best 352 yards on 80 carries in three games.
”When this man gets rolling, he is all of – whatever height he is and size – he looks like an offensive lineman carrying the football,” Saleh said. ”So, he’s a load, he’s deserving of all the accolades he’s gotten and it’s going to be a tremendous challenge this week.”
Despite the Jets’ 0-3 start, the defense has performed relatively well. New York ranks 10th in overall defense, including 14th against the run. But the Jets know Henry is quite a handful – and different from most running backs.
”He’s bigger than most people on the football field,” said linebacker C.J. Mosley, a former Alabama teammate. ”We have to do a great job of getting him down and we all know the stiff-arm’s coming.”
Henry has been a workhorse for the Titans, a throwback of sorts to when most teams had a primary ball-carrier rather than the mix-and-match backfields several squads use today – including the Jets. Henry has had 20 or more carries in regular-season games 21 times over the past three seasons, including four of 30 or more. He had 35 attempts for 182 yards and three TDs in Tennessee’s 33-30 victory over Seattle two weeks ago.
”I have said it time and time again, the guy is unbelievably durable,” Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. ”The consistency he shows week in and week out over the course of the season since I have been here, two-plus years of him getting a lot of touches and just being consistent week in and week out, I have ton of respect for that and the work he puts in to prepare himself to do that.”
Zach Wilson’s NFL career has gotten off to a rough start. And that’s putting it mildly.
The Jets rookie quarterback has thrown just two touchdown passes and seven interceptions, which ties the No. 2 overall pick with Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence – the No. 1 pick in April.
Bad blocking, mistakes on routes, questionable play-calling by offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur and Wilson not getting the ball out faster have all been culprits in the Jets scoring just six points in their past two games.
”I feel like there’s light at the end of the tunnel as far as where we’re trying to get,” Wilson said. ”You can’t put a timeline on that. It’s going to take time and we’re just going to keep working it. That’s why I feel so confident.”
SEARCHING FOR TURNOVERS
The Titans have forced one turnover through three games, becoming enough of a problem that coach Mike Vrabel added some work at practice for a reminder on how to strip, tip and rip out footballs.
Safety Kevin Byard has the only takeaway with an interception in the season opener, and he said sometimes it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time with a quarterback throwing the ball to a defender.
Vrabel said there are certain things that can be coached and others that can’t.
”I go back to this, Bill (Belichick), God love him, never taught me how to strip-sack the quarterback,” Vrabel said of the Patriots coach. ”Guys just have to go and were reaching for it, and we have to keep going. We are close.”
Corey Davis spent his first four NFL seasons in Tennessee after being the fifth overall pick in the 2017 draft. But the Titans declined the fifth-year option on his contract and never offered him a deal to return this offseason, something the Jets wide receiver acknowledged bothered him.
”Yeah, I’m not going to lie,” he said. ”A little bit.”
But Davis, who signed a three-year, $37.5 million contract with New York in March, insisted he won’t be seeking a measure of revenge Sunday when he faces the Titans.
”I’m not going to make it any bigger than what it is,” Davis said. ”It’s another week and it’s a big week for us, honestly, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Tennessee came into this season trying to improve over 2020, when the defense ranked at or near the bottom of several categories. The Titans are showing signs they’re getting better.
They held the Colts to 265 yards, the fewest yards since giving up 260 to the Giants on Dec. 16, 2018. A unit that was last in the NFL on third downs a year ago allowed only three conversions on 12 third downs for a 25% rate that was their best since last November.
Even better, the Titans are allowing 37.8% conversions on third down through three games.
AP Pro Football Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed.
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