Chiefs' Tyrann Mathieu, Anthony Hitchens explain plan to stop Titans bulldozer Derrick Henry
Is this the blueprint to stopping the league's leading rusher?
It's easier said than done, but the Kansas City Chiefs know they have no choice but to figure out how to pull the emergency brake on Derrick Henry. The league leader in rushing yards has absolutely owned the playoffs, becoming the driving force that's powered the Tennessee Titans to two playoff upsets en route to rubber stamping an appearance in the AFC Championship Game.
As both the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens can attest, Henry is a force to be reckoned with. The Pro Bowl running back has amassed a monstrous 377 rushing yards combined in those two contests, and shows no signs of slowing down. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who's equally responsible for the Titans regular season surge that powered their turnaround and landing them in the playoff brackett, has only needed to be efficient and mistake-free during the Titans postseason run.
For the most part, the team's success has been predicated upon Henry imposing his will for four quarters, but Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens explains the blueprint for toppling the beast.
"You've got to just take his legs out," Hitchens said, via AL.com. "We've talked all week: kill the engine. Hit him in his thighs and his legs. Chop him down.
"When you tackle him high, he tends to carry you for about 5 more yards, so hit him low -- and all legal within the game. But you've just got to hit him lower."
Sounds great in theory, but Henry has been known to wear down even the most stout defenders as the game wears on, and that's when the damage really begins.
"We've got a bunch of guys fit for four quarters," Hitchens points out. "You don't get this opportunity much, so we're going to take advantage of it, play four quarters and see where it takes us."
Tyrann Mathieu is on the same page as Hitchens, and the All-Pro safety is fully aware it's not simply about stopping Henry in the first quarter, because he's going to keep coming.
"I think the most important thing is we've got to finish the game strong," Mathieu said. "If you watch a lot of Derrick Henry, he gets stronger as the game goes on. His first halves aren't that great, but second-half football, he takes off. So we got to be well-rested, hydrated in order to kind of finish the game, try to compete against him and slow him down when it matters the most in the fourth quarter -- four-minute drives, six-minute drives, seven minutes left. I remember last time we played them, it was nine minutes on the clock, they were down by nine and they kept feeding him the ball, so you know that they believe in him."
It's a hard-nosed philosophy led by a hard-nosed head coach in Mike Vrabel, who's installed a blue collar approach within the Titans that takes pleasure in beating their opponents into a bloodied submission.
"Even when they're down, they're still feeding him the ball, so it's kind of like playing basketball and your coach tells you, 'Keep shooting,'" Mathieu said of how the Titans utilize Henry. "And so you feel that confidence. You know that your team believes in you. I think that's the kind of confidence they're playing with. I think that's what they're looking forward to, and it's been working well for them."
The Chiefs are the anti-Titans, style-wise, and the matchup pits a high-flying offense against one of an old school nature, and everyone will be tuned in to see which gets the upper hand. And although Kansas City and reigning league MVP Patrick Mahomes enter the fight as favorites, so did the Patriots and Ravens, who are both sitting on the couch this weekend.
Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth, after all.
"They're so big up front," Mathieu said. "I think their offensive line is really underrated. They're mean. They're nasty. They believe in themselves.
"They play together. And I think that, ultimately, they believe in the guy behind them. I think Henry, obviously, put together a great season. Done a lot of great things for his team.
"And they're really leaning on him, and I think the mentality is somebody's going to have to stop him. Somebody's going to have to make a tackle on him if we want to get to Miami. So it's one goal, one objective to win the game. But in order to do that, we know we got to slow down 22."
Again, that's easier said than done.
The Chiefs were losers of a thrilling 35-32 battle between the two clubs in Week 10, thanks to Henry running for 188 yards and two touchdowns in that game. They'd like to avoid a repeat with a trip to Super Bowl LIV on the line.
It's lightning versus thunder -- in a perfect storm that is the AFC Championship Game.
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