Derrick Henry bulled his way through feeble arm tackle attempts, rudely stiff-armed the Texans' defense into the ground and scampered away from their pursuit with his superior speed despite literally being as big as their defensive ends.
The Tennessee Titans' powerhouse running back showed why he's known as King Henry and deserving of the crown as one of the most dangerous running backs in the game.
His 29-yard touchdown run during a 17-10 victory at NRG Stadium was emblematic of how dominant Henry was against the NFL's worst-ranked run defense. On this score, one of his two touchdown runs, Henry busted through tackle attempts by defensive end Mario Addison and safety Jonathan Owens before giving nickel back Desmond King a ride into the end zone.
The former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL rushing champion rushed for 219 yards on 32 carries, rushing for more than 200 yards against the Texans for the fourth consecutive game. How invaluable is Henry? The Titans, in rookie quarterback Maliek Willis' uneven starting debut with Ryan Tannehill sidelined, only threw the football once in the second half as they piled up 314 rushing yards on 45 carries.
"It was really cool to see one of our premier guys in the NFL on my team just kind of take over the football game," Willis said. "He was like, 'They can’t stop me, they can’t stop me.' It was cool to see that because they weren’t stopping him.”
Henry was absolutely correct in his assessment. He became the first player in NFL history to rush for at least 150 yards and two touchdowns in four games in a row against the same team. He now has six 200-yard games, tying O.J. Simpson and Adrian Peterson for the most in NFL history.
"Oh my God, he's what, 6-3, 250 man running the ball," Texans rookie running back Dameon Pierce said. "He's amazing. He ain't supposed to be that big running that fast."
One week after allowing Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs to rush for 143 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-20 road loss, the Texans' run defense was involved in another ugly and lopsided performance.
The frustration is mounting for the 1-5-1 Texans and their helpless defense, which entered Sunday allowing an NFL-high 164 rushing yards per game.
"It's unacceptable for us as a defense to give up that many yards," said Texans middle linebacker Christian Kirksey, the team's defensive captain and signal caller. "He has good vision. It boils down to guys doing their job, staying in their gap, making the tackle. We've got to clean up some things. There's really nothing you can say about that. It's unacceptable. We've got to find a way to win. We've got keep fighting, clean up the mistakes and start playing better football."
It defies logic to think the Texans will suddenly become a better tackling defense. It hasn't happened yet through seven games.
What could change the situation?
"Uh, just attitude, will, want-to," Kirksey said. "Got to find a way. He's a good back. I thought we had chances to make the play on the ball. We just didn't get him down. We've got to go back to the drawing board."
The Texans lost the battle in the trenches at the line of scrimmage.
“When you get dominated on both sides of the football, I'm talking about, upfront, it's going to be a tough day," Texans coach Lovie Smith said. "It was bad football today we played, and you end up with a game like that. You look at the score and you say, ‘Hey, you had a chance to win.’ Never really were in it. Defensively we haven't been able to really stop the run all year, and today that definitely showed up."
The Titans won their fifth consecutive game. Henry rumbled for a season-long 41 yards on his second run of the game. This marked his fourth consecutive 100-yard game.
“We’ve come to expect that from him,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “He puts so much on himself. Derrick expects more from himself than anyone on this football team or any coaching member would. I’m glad we have him.”
Henry now has 75 career touchdowns, 72 on the ground and three receiving to surpass Eddie George for the most touchdowns in franchise history.
Henry said he got winded after carrying the football so much and credited his offensive line. He's now up to 892 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in his last four games against the Texans after missing both games against them last season due to a broken foot.
“They were the ones that made that happen,” he said. “I would hope they take pride in that. I think that's our identity and culture. Coach preaches physicality, effort, and finish, details, fundamentals, and we all take pride in that."
The common denominator for the Texans hasn't changed.
"Missed tackles," said Owens, who was benched and replaced by Eric Murray in the second half. "That was the big thing for us, got to minimize the explosive run. We've all got to be better. I've got to be better because we're doing a lot of good. We've got to keep working."
Henry ran for a career-high 250 yards against the Texans during his 2000-yard rushing season in 2020.
The Texans were playing without defensive tackle Maliek Collins, the engine of their defense as a penetrating three-technique, due to a chest injury. And this marked the first game since linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill was cut at his request. Rookie linebacker Christian Harris had a team-high seven tackles, but also missed several tackles and took the wrong angle during other plays.
"We’re a little shorthanded now and we'll try to do a better job," Smith said. "We knew who we were playing. One of the best backs in the game. That physical brand of football, we weren't ready to play that today.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.