Former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith had a good answer for nearly any problem he had with his offense — just give the ball to Derrick Henry.
The 27-year-old running back has been playing on easy mode for the past two seasons. Not only has he led the league in rushing yards during those seasons, but he also became only the eighth running back in NFL history to eclipse 2,000 yards in a single season. That kind of dominance is rare in sport. It’s even rarer to keep it up for as long as he has.
Smith, who was recently hired as the Falcons head coach, had to look to a different sport to find the right analogy for Henry’s superiority.
“We adapted to Derrick,” Smith said. “There’s only one Derrick Henry. He’s like having Shaquille O’Neal in his prime. You have to feed the big fella, and certainly, we did that in Tennessee.”
Derrick Henry had nearly 400 rushing attempts this season. Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook had the next highest, with 312 rushes this year. In 2019, Tennessee handed the ball to Henry 303 times, which was also the season leader that year.
Comparing Henry and O’Neal is an apt one. Shaq is likely the most dominant single player in NBA history. His size and speed made him unstoppable in the low post and in the paint. Eventually, teams just gave up and decided their best strategy was the “Hacka-a-Shaq” method. This meant fouling him before he could do any extra damage.
Arthur Smith said He Will Adapt to Life with Derrick Henry
Arthur Smith has proven he knows how to build an offense. He has an eye for talent and can get the most out of his players. But Atlanta doesn’t have the weapons Tennessee does. But that isn’t to say he’ll be empty-handed in Georgia.
He knows things will be different, but he says he’s ready to adapt to a new style of football.
“Playing to the strengths of your players,” Smith said. “…We’re not going to find the next Derrick Henry. We’ll adapt to the players we have and the ones we add to the roster. Ryan (Tannehill) was very decisive, and we had a lot of guys that could make plays. We just tried to use the full force of our offense. We didn’t want to be an isolation football team.”
Tennessee will also need to adapt. Even with Henry, replacing Smith as offensive coordinator isn’t going to be easy.