Giants face royal challenge with Titans' Derrick Henry

·4 min read

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — New York Giants defensive coordinator Don Martindale has faced Derrick Henry enough to know exactly why the two-time NFL rushing champ is nicknamed the King.

“They call Derrick Henry the King because he’s on the Iron Throne for all you ‘Game of Thrones’ fans,” Martindale said. “They just gave him a raise. I think he’s the highest-paid running back, and I still don’t think they gave him enough.”

Worse for Martindale and the Giants, Henry comes into Sunday's season opener with an extra pep in his step and something to prove.

Henry missed Tennessee's final nine games of last season with a broken right foot and still finished ninth in the NFL in rushing. Henry had surgery to fix the foot and returned for the playoffs with the Titans the AFC's No. 1 seed. Yet Henry ran for only 62 yards in their divisional loss.

The Titans running back has insisted his foot is healthy.

Henry returned Martindale's compliment Thursday, noting it's always a slugfest against his defenses. Henry ran for 170 yards in his lone game against the Giants and had big games against Baltimore with Martindale as coordinator. But Martindale's Ravens got the best of Henry in a wild-card loss in January 2021.

“He’s probably going to build me up and then go in the locker room and tell them to knock my head off,” Henry said.

Martindale is part of New York's new staff with the Giants hoping first-time head coach Brian Daboll can do for them what he did as offensive coordinator with Buffalo the past four seasons. The Giants are trying to snap a skid of five straight losing seasons.

A big first step will be trying to slow down Henry. Daboll had a thought on what might help.

“Yeah, if he’s not at the game,” Daboll said.

The Titans have spent months stewing over that divisional loss to Cincinnati and retooled the offense to give Ryan Tannehill more help. If they need any further motivation, they can think back to the 2021 season opener when they were blown out by Arizona before going 12-5.

“Just hope that we can play and coach better,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of last year's season opener. “We turned the ball over and didn’t do a very good job taking care of the football. We couldn’t really stop them much. We got beat.”

RARE TERRITORY

Henry is two touchdowns away from 70 for his career, a total including 65 rushing TDs and three TD receptions. That would make him the third player in franchise history to reach that mark, trailing Earl Campbell (73) and Eddie George (74).

In the NFL, only Raiders receiver Davante Adams and Todd Gurley II (69) have scored more touchdowns since the start of the 2016 season. Henry is tied with New Orleans running back Alvin Kamara and Ezekiel Elliott of Dallas with 68. Only Elliot has had more yards rushing (7,386) in the NFL than Henry (6,797) since the start of the 2016 season.

DON'T FORGET SAQUON

The No. 2 overall draft pick in 2018 may be happiest at Daboll's hiring and what that might mean for for the Giants' offense. Saquon Barkley played 13 games last season but scored just two touchdowns while never looking like the running back who was one of the NFL's best in his first two seasons. Barkley ran for 593 yards last year.

REPLACING LANDRY

The Titans lost their top pass rusher Aug. 31 when Pro Bowl linebacker Harold Landry tore an ACL in practice after having a career-high 12 sacks last season. His replacement on the depth chart is Denico Autry who had nine sacks, and outside linebacker Bud Dupree is healthy after recovering from his own torn ACL last season.

GIANT INJURY CONCERNS

New York rookie edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, who sprained his right knee Aug. 22 in a preseason win over the AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals, has been limited in practice. Linebacker Azeez Ojulari also has been limited by an injured calf. The Giants are trying to improve a defense that ranked 25th, giving up 129 yards rushing last season.

ROSTER TURNOVER

The Giants have been busy revamping the roster for Daboll with 25 new players, including nine draft picks led by Thibodeaux at No. 5 overall and new right tackle Evan Neal at No. 7. Among the veteran additions are quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who's backing up Daniel Jones.

The Titans have 21 new players with eight draft picks and three undrafted rookies. First-round wide receiver Treylon Burks was the 18th pick overall selected in the trade sending A.J. Brown to Philadelphia. Second-round cornerback Roger McCreary has earned a starting spot opposite Kristian Fulton.

They also tried to give Ryan Tannehill more help by trading for wide receiver Robert Woods and signing two-time Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper.

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