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Spadaro: Defense can't let Derrick Henry run wild on Sunday

Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro

There aren't any secrets here, are they? The Eagles' defense has been watching Tennessee's offense all week and what stands out the most from the Titans' attack? Do we need to ask, really?

"Derrick Henry," defensive tackle Milton Williams said. "He's their monster."

"Everything starts with Derrick Henry," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. "He's going to be a challenge for us on Sunday, no doubt about it."

"There is no secret," safety Marcus Epps said. "They're a physical football team and they want to run the ball down your throat with Derrick Henry."

"It's always a great challenge," defensive tackle Linval Joseph said. "At the end of the day, to be the best, you have to beat the best and to get recognition, you have to beat somebody with recognition, so this is a great chapter, challenge for our team. I think so far this week. I can feel the urgency. I feel everybody locking in because we want it, so we gotta go get it."

Henry, geez, everyone who follows the NFL knows all about him. He's a 245-pound nightmare who runs with power, has breakaway speed, invites contact, and has a crushing stiff-arm move. Henry has 1,048 rushing yards already this season with 10 touchdowns. He initiates the Tennessee offense. Everybody knows it. Every defense goes into a week preparing for Henry and, more often than not, Henry wins.

And he wins in the nastiest way.

"You need to be ready to bring it because he certainly is looking to be as physical as possible," defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. "He is a special talent and we know we have to be ready for him."

In his seventh NFL season, Henry has gained more than 1,000 yards four times and in 2020 he gained 2,047 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per attempt. In each of the last five seasons, Henry has reached double digits in rushing touchdowns. The man is no joke, and the instances of success against him are fleeting.

Last week's defense, the Cincinnati Bengals, stymied Henry with a penetrating, all-11-to-the-ball approach and it worked. Henry gained just 38 yards on 17 carries and had five carries that gained zero yards each time, one carry for minus-1 yard, and another carry for minus-2 yards.

"They are OK with letting everybody know how they're coming," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "We've got to make sure we come with our attitude and execute our game plan. Derrick has a big body, obviously a stiff arm, we can't let him get to the second level because he has a track record (of success there). It's an attitude, like I said. You gotta get numbers to the ball. We respect him and his game and we have to make sure that we rally and that we play our game, play ball.

"You have to stop him before he gets started. That's the key. You can't give him clear holes to run through. I enjoy the challenge. This is a real testament for your team to how you handle things up front. Everything starts and ends up front, so I'm curious to see especially knowing some of the issues that we've had in the run game. I'm sure everybody is tired of it. We want to get it right. This is a great week to see what our attitude is when our back is up against the wall."

The run defense has improved with Joseph and Suh on board, and it would appear that rookie tackle Jordan Davis – back on the practice field – won't be far behind to give the Eagles more depth and versatility up front. Tennessee doesn't live by Henry alone – Dalton Hilliard averages 6.8 yards per carry on 21 attempts and is a target in the passing game out of the backfield and quarterback Ryan Tannehill is extremely dangerous when the play-action passing game gets going – but the main focus of the offense is Henry.

No secrets, then. The Eagles know what's coming, and they understand that they can't allow Derrick Henry to run wild on Sunday.

"It's going to take all of us," linebacker T.J. Edwards said. "We know we have to get to the ball and take it to him because if you let him dictate, he's going to do it his way. And no defense wants that to happen."

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