Bengals ‘looking forward’ to challenge of slowing Titans’ Henry

Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill, right, hands off to running back Derrick Henry during the second half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in Seattle. The Titans won 33-30 in overtime. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

caption arrowCaption
Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill, right, hands off to running back Derrick Henry during the second half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in Seattle. The Titans won 33-30 in overtime. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Running back expected to return to lineup for Saturday’s game after being out since Week 8

When Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry underwent surgery to repair the foot he broke in Week 8 against the Colts, it appeared his season was likely done. However, a first-round playoff bye enabled him extra recovery time and the Cincinnati Bengals are preparing for one of the league’s best rushers.

Henry has been designated for return from injured reserve and reportedly responded well to the workload in his first padded practice Tuesday. The Bengals expect to see a lot of Henry when they face the top-seeded Titans (12-5) in an AFC divisional round game Saturday at Nissan Stadium.

The All-Pro running back was the league’s leading rusher at the time of his injury, running for 937 yards and 10 touchdowns in his eight games.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Bengals nose guard D.J. Reader said. “They do some good things in the run game. But we’re excited as a D-Line. It’s big challenge for us. And it’s a challenge we’re gonna go out there and accept, and we’re going to go out there and do our thing. ... It’s going to start and end up front, every game.”

ExploreBengals seek first playoff road win

Cincinnati has been one of the best against the run this season, ranking fifth in the league while limiting opponents to 102.5 rushing yards per game. But the defensive line is a concern this week. Tackle Larry Ogunjobi went on injured reserve with a foot injury that requires surgery and three other defensive linemen are dealing with injuries.

Mike Daniels is expected to be out with a groin injury, Josh Tupou was limited Tuesday in his attempt to work back from an MCL injury and defensive end Trey Hendrickson is trying to clear concussion protocols. The Bengals signed eighth-year defensive tackle Zach Kerr, who has played 195 career games with 16 starts, off Arizona’s practice squad Wednesday to fill a need, but he will be walking into a new system with little time to prepare.

Much attention will be placed on whoever lines up Saturday.

“I think we’ve just been assignment sound just trying to do what’s asked of us within each defense, but truthfully it starts up front,” linebacker Logan Wilson said. “Our defensive line has been great all year and we’re going to need them on Saturday.”

Fortunately for the Bengals, Reader, the anchor to the run defense, is healthy. Reader joined the team as a free agent in March 2020 as someone who was supposed to help plug up the middle and stop the run (Cincinnati was the worst run defense in 2019), but he played just five games before his season ended with a quad tear.

ExploreBurrow has Bengals believing -- 'We know he's special'

This season, he has quietly made the big impact expected, recording 43 combined tackles and three tackles for loss to go with two sacks and seven quarterback hits.

Reader said playing in the AFC North against good running backs, such as Cleveland’s Nick Chubb, has the Bengals well-prepared, but Henry is a different type of beast. Slot corner Mike Hilton said he seems to get better in the fourth quarter as the defenses start tiring.

“He just wears on you,” Hilton said. “It might seem easy the first and second quarter but towards that second half constantly tackling him it definitely wears down on you and that’s what they thrive off of running the football trying to wear you down. Just makes it difficult for a defense to tackle him in the fourth quarter. We know as a defense we’ve got to get a lot of heads to the football and gang tackle.”

Wilson said the key is keeping Henry between the tackles because he’s dynamic in the open field and has “probably the best” stiff-arm in the league.

There’s a chance Henry won’t be physically ready to handle a normal workload, but in the playoffs, players tend to battle through things knowing it could be the last game. Even when Henry hasn’t been on the field, the Titans have still be effective in the run game with D’Onta Foreman and Dontrell Hilliard.

Foreman has 566 yards rushing and three touchdowns, while Hilliard adds 350 yards and two touchdowns.

“They’re a product of their coach,” Reader said. “Coach (Mike) Vrabel is a good coach. … He’s a guy you want to run through the wall for, and I think they do a good job all working together. Those guys been around each other for good little minute. I played them when I was in that division (with Houston). They do a good job of working together. Derrick, when he’s in there, he has the element (that) he’s a huge back. He gets downhill. He’s a rushing champion two years ago. He’s a great player. He’s been that since college. So I think it’s just tough to have a big back back there, running the ball the way he runs it.”

SATURDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Titans, 4:30 p.m., CBS, Paramount+, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

About the Author