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The Tennessee Titans performed their first of what is going to be a number of video games with out Derrick Henry on Sunday night time, and since they gained that sport in opposition to the Los Angeles Rams in an unequivocal romp, it could be irresponsible, actually, to transfer into the subsequent paragraph with out once more acknowledging that achievement: The Titans, taking part in with out the rhinoceros of a working again so central to their id, traveled throughout the nation and swamped the Rams — as in, the had-lost-once-since-Labor-Day-Rams — by 28-16 at SoFi Stadium.
But though they miss Henry dearly, it’s instructive to do not forget that Tennessee’s roster is populated on either side of the ball with many different massive, agile males who’re expert at what they do. The identical males who helped the Titans (7-2) thwart Indianapolis final week — and demolish Kansas City the week earlier than that, and outlast Buffalo the week earlier than that, and rout Jacksonville the week earlier than that — helped them offset Henry’s absence and administer a defeat that resonated all through the league.
It resonated as a result of the Titans’ defensive entrance, one of many extra imposing within the N.F.L., ensured that they gained a fifth consecutive sport to stay atop the A.F.C., because the convention’s solely seven-win workforce, on the halfway level of this 18-week season.
With Jeffery Simmons throttling Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford up the center and Denico Autry pestering him off the sting, the Titans ransacked his offensive line while not having to blitz. In holding the high-scoring Rams with out a landing till the ultimate 24 seconds, Tennessee sacked Stafford 5 occasions — Los Angeles had allowed eight throughout its first eight video games — and in any other case bedeviled him to such an extent that within the second quarter he thought it wiser to fling a move into visitors by the aim line than to be sacked for a potential security.
As they did on a comparable play a week in the past, the Titans grabbed the errant move and transformed it into a landing, the primary of two they scored inside an 11-second span to flip a 3-0 deficit into a 14-3 benefit: On the Rams’ subsequent offensive snap, Titans security Kevin Byard swooped in entrance of Robert Woods and returned an interception 24 yards untouched.
“I hope it doesn’t run out,” Coach Mike Vrabel mentioned of the Titans’ penchant for giant defensive performs. “I know you can’t rely on it, but again, you put enough pressure and I’m feeling it over on the sidelines. I’m feeling that type of pressure.”
It was, in different phrases, the kind of strain sought by Rams General Manager Les Snead final Monday when he acquired from Denver the sting rusher Von Miller, who was inactive Sunday with an ankle damage. In a league that prizes draft decisions, Snead offers them, preferring the relative certainty of established gamers to the potential, and unknown, of picks out of school. The insistence on successful now and worrying concerning the future later redoubles the significance of, you realize, successful now, and although the Rams (7-2) stay a robust contender, they dropped a sport behind the Arizona Cardinals — who gained the groups’ first assembly — within the N.F.C. West.
As Snead was finishing the commerce for Miller, the Titans have been studying the extent of Henry’s damage. Until breaking a bone in his proper foot, Henry led the N.F.L. in speeding makes an attempt, yardage and touchdowns, as he did in 2019 and 2020. When requested after Sunday’s sport about Henry, Vrabel scrunched his face in a transient grimace, maybe realizing that his response would breach considered one of teaching’s unwritten protocols: Don’t speak about unavailable gamers.
“We’ve moved on since Derrick,” Vrabel mentioned, including, “Coaches got players ready that weren’t here, and they played in the game and they made plays to help us win.”
Replacing one 2,000-yard rusher with one other, the Titans signed Adrian Peterson, 36, who scored their remaining landing, with three minutes left. He mixed with D’Onta Foreman and Jeremy McNichols, Tennessee’s regular third-down again, to rush for 74 yards on 22 carries.
Just as Henry’s outsize presence outlined the Titans, his absence will, too. They gained a season-low 194 yards, and their longest collection traveled 44 yards; of their different eight that didn’t begin on the Rams’ 2-yard line or encompass a kneeldown, none went past 30. That most likely isn’t a sustainable strategy long-term, however the Titans are an odd workforce.
As Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders noted, they’ve allowed extra yards per play this season than they’ve gained, a pattern that continued Sunday night time (4.7 to 3.5). Tennessee additionally misplaced to the Jets, which ought to have instantly plunged the Titans to the underside of the A.F.C., as if that they had landed on a slide in Chutes and Ladders.
The Titans are additionally a good workforce, although one which wins shut video games and rattles star quarterbacks and makes clutch performs — like Amani Hooker’s deal with in area that, with the Rams trailing by 21-9 early within the fourth quarter, restricted Darrell Henderson to a 2-yard catch on third-and-3 on the Tennessee 43; the Titans proceeded to stymie Stafford on fourth down.
Their path to the No. 1 seed and attendant home-field benefit, ever extra priceless in an expanded postseason configuration that awards just one first-round bye, needs to be manageable, or not less than not unmanageable. Next up is a house matchup in opposition to the New Orleans Saints, who will begin a backup at quarterback. After that: Houston, at New England and Jacksonville, heading into the ultimate quarter of the season.
It’s potential that Henry heals in time to rejoin the Titans in the course of the playoffs. By demonstrating they’ll win with out him, they improved their possibilities of successful once more — again at SoFi in February, maybe, for the Super Bowl — with him.