NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- There has been so much talk about whether DeMarco Murray or Derrick Henry should be the Tennessee Titans' feature back, and Monday night confirmed the team's decision. They're choosing both.
Henry's 72-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run made him the big victor of the day in terms of backfield share and fantasy football points, but both running backs were happy after the game. That's because the Titans found a way to feed them both. Henry had 147 total yards, 1 touchdown and 20 touches in 40 of the Titans' 70 offensive reps. Murray had 87 total yards, 1 touchdown and 16 touches in his 38 snaps.
"I'd say that's a pretty good model of what we're looking for," Titans coach Mike Mularkey said Tuesday. "It's a good combination, and it's tough to defend."
It's the second time this season Henry has outsnapped Murray, but if the rotation goes how the Titans plan, it won't be the last. Mularkey is truly embracing a running back-by-committee system, with Murray starting, both backs rotating throughout the game, Murray dominating obvious passing downs and getting more targets as a receiver, and Henry being the primary closer in the fourth quarter.
"I really like how it's played out with the percentages," Mularkey said, confirming Henry has established himself as the "go-to" fourth quarter running back. "The first guy down to congratulate [Henry] on the touchdown was DeMarco Murray."
Henry's physical, punishing running style has made him like a speedy wrecking ball to tired defenses. He's the perfect example of a back getting better as the game goes on. Just look at his yards-per-carry average per quarter:
First quarter: 1.2
Second quarter: 3.4
Third quarter: 5.3
Fourth quarter: 7.8
Henry has 195 rushing yards on 25 carries in the fourth quarter. He has 37 carries for 123 yards combined over the first three quarters. Another note: 64 percent of Henry's 318 rushing yards have come after contact.
So expect Henry to play this role throughout the rest of the season, particularly when the Titans are winning.
What does that mean for Murray? He'll still be a big part of the offense and will often lead them in yards. He just won't monopolize the workload as he did in 2016 when he had nearly a 3-to-1 share on Henry in touches and snaps.
In 2017, Murray has 68 carries for 313 yards and 2 touchdowns, plus 86 receiving yards. Henry has 62 carries for 318 yards and 2 touchdowns, along with 14 receiving yards. Looks like a timeshare to me.
Murray is still the better receiving and pass-blocking back, and he has a gap awareness and quickness advantage over Henry. He'll also get a heavier share when the Titans are losing or need a spark, as we saw in losses to the Texans and Dolphins.
The Titans have the NFL's sixth-ranked rushing offense, and they still haven't found the consistency in that area like last season, meaning there's still potential for growth. Offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie has shown a discipline to stick with the run even when it's not working early, like Monday night against the Colts.
"We didn't know when and where it was going to kick in, but we were going to run it until it did," Mularkey said.
That's good news for Murray and Henry going forward.