Derrick Henry on fire for Tennessee Titans vs. Kansas City Chiefs in NFL Week 7

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I’ve come to this startling conclusion: Derrick Henry does not like to blow his own horn. So after Tennessee finished its seven-day sweep of the 2020 AFC title teams (34-31 over Buffalo last Monday, 27-3 over KC Sunday), he wasn’t interested in talking about how great his Tebowesque TD throw that started the scoring against the Chiefs was. “Kinda similar to the pass I had in the playoffs against the Ravens in 2019,” he said from the Tennessee locker room. “Try to get the defense to suck up and do whatever . . . and it ended up in a touchdown.”

First score of the game and, in fact, the winning score as it turned out. Henry did the old Tebow jump-pass to tight end MyCole Pruitt for a five-yard TD. It was a wobbler, but accurate and effective. On a day when Henry’s streak of five straight 100-yard rushing games ended (he rushed 29 times for 86 yards against a KC front determined to stop him), he still was integral because of the touchdown pass.

Henry is the offensive Aaron Donald, on his way to the Hall of Fame even though he’s still very much in mid-career. At 27, he is on his way to being the fifth player to lead the NFL in rushing three straight years. That has two asterisks: Jim Brown actually did it twice, and Brown actually did it five straight years at one point. Will Henry make it three straight this year? Obviously health is the biggest factor, but consider that Henry has a 290-yard lead for the title over the Colts’ Jonathan Taylor, 869 yards to 579. Plenty of season left, but you’ve got to think Henry’s got a pretty good chance at his third straight rushing title.

The amazing thing about Henry’s run is how he’s been in his average yards per game during the streak. Comparing Henry’s three-year run to those who have led the NFL in rushing for at least three straight years:

As a running back,” he said, “I just gotta go out and do my job and hit the holes my teammates make for me. They’ve been fantastic. I give all my credit to them.”

Henry seemed honored to hear about the yards-per-game number, particular because of the Jim Brown connection. “I’ve seen clips of him growing up,” Henry said. “I think Jim Brown’s the heights. For my name to be mentioned with his, it’s an honor. A dream come true. Jim Brown was kind of like a superhero. So this is special, something you dream of as a kid.”

It’s within reach that Henry could be the most dominant rusher over a three-year span that there ever was—and what makes that all the more notable is the fact that we’re in an age of reduced rushing. Vastly reduced rushing. Good for the Titans that they recognize the value of traditional football and put it in the offensive game plan of a 5-2, division-leading team.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column here

Super Bowl LVII storylines: Defending Mahomes, Hurts

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The three things you need to know about Super Bowl LVII, per Next Gen Stats, that I think could play big parts in who wins:

The Eagles do not need to blitz to affect Patrick Mahomes. This is the craziest thing about a formidable Philadelphia front: Of their league-best 77 sacks in 19 games, including playoffs, 57 came when the Eagles rushed four players. That means 74 percent of their sacks have come on non-blitzes. Which, of course, means that Mahomes will likely most often be trying to complete his passes with a battered receiving corps against seven men in coverage. Tough duty for even a great one like Mahomes. No team in the seven-year history of Next Gen Stats has had such success rushing the quarterback without blitzing as the ‘22 Eagles.

Kansas City must be considering offensive alternatives with its beat-up receiver corps. Much has been said about the lack of Tyreek Hill in this offense, and it’s remarkable that the team has been so explosive—and Mahomes so productive—with all the new receivers in his arsenal. New, and not as fast. In 2018 through ’21, with Hill onboard, Mahomes threw 47 “deep TD passes,” defined as passes that traveled at least 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. In 2022, minus Hill, Mahomes threw one. We’ve seen all year that Mahomes is far more of an intermediate thrower this year, and he’s been great at it. One more NGS nugget that could come into play: Kansas City has scored 35 touchdowns this year—most in the NFL—with two tight ends on the field. If Travis Kelce isn’t a 100-yard factor in this game, I’ll be surprised.

Steve Spagnuolo beat the 18-0 Patriots with an unpredictable pass-rush in the 2007 season. Will he blitz Jalen Hurts in the same way in Super Bowl LVII? Hurts, per Next Gen, had the sixth-worst success rate against the blitz this season. His success rate is 47.7 percent against non-blitzes. One thing Hurts has going for him is the best offensive line in football, a line well-suited to defend against great rushers. He’ll need it against Chris Jones and Frank Clark.

Lots of great angles in this tight, competitive matchup. Those are just three.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column

Concrete takeaways from Broncos’ deal with Sean Payton

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The late Giants’ GM, George Young, once had a great truism about coaching searches: “They’re never done till they’re done.” Reporters in this time of intense media would be wise to keep that in mind.

Reading about the Denver job in the two weeks before the hire of Sean Payton last week left these impressions: He wouldn’t want the job because of a conflict with an owner. Or he had a bad interview, didn’t have a second interview as others did, and was out of the running. Or Broncos owners never wanted Payton as their coach. Or the Broncos wanted DeMeco Ryans and got jilted, and so went to Payton as a fallback.

For someone so unwanted as Payton, it seems funny Denver traded first- and second-round draft choices (getting a third- in return) to New Orleans for Payton, then made him one of the highest-paid coaches in NFL history, with a five-year deal worth at least $18 million a year. The Broncos once were interested in Jim Harbaugh and then Ryans—neither of whom would require draft-choice compensation, and neither of whom would cost upwards of $18 millon a year. But things change during the process of looking for a coach, so it’s wise to not speak in absolutes till it’s over.

A few things we do know about the Payton deal with Denver:

  • Denver talked with Saints GM Mickey Loomis about two deals for Payton, who required compensation because he was still under contract to New Orleans: a first-round pick and a third-round pick, or a first-rounder and second-rounder, with the Broncos getting a third-rounder in return. Denver wanted the second option, because it would leave them with an equal number of day-two picks instead of being down one. Officially, Denver trades the 30th pick this year and a second-round pick in 2024 and gets a third-round pick in 2024 in return.
  • Payton had the best chance of turning Russell Wilson around. The first time I ever met Wilson, at Seahawks training camp, he said to me: “Who’s taller—me or Drew [Brees]?” I think he was genuinely curious about it. (I’d guess Wilson, by a fraction.) But Wilson and Brees have gotten to be friends, and Wilson has great admiration for him. So, Wilson’s at a low point after his disastrous first year in Denver. He wanted Payton to get the job, and he’s willing to be coached hard by him. Wilson has been reaching out to Brees to get a preview of coming attractions. History lesson: Brees was a free agent coming off shoulder surgery in 2006, and Miami was iffy on signing him because of his shoulder, and the Saints went after him hard. Brees came under Payton’s wing with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. Sound familiar?
  • The presence in the interview process of minority Broncos owner Condoleezza Rice, the former U.S. Secretary of State, was a plus. Payton was impressed by her, and one of the majority owners, Greg Penner. He thinks he’ll be able to form the kind of close relationship with GM George Paton that he had with Loomis, who remains one of his best friends, in New Orleans.
  • Payton is wide open about his defensive staff, and won’t be in a hurry to fill it out. He’ll take his time to find a coordinator he thinks he’ll mesh with. He won’t be afraid to pick a strong-minded tough guy like Brian Flores, who he’s scheduled to interview. The defensive coordinator of the Broncos, as Dennis Allen was under Payton in New Orleans, is going to be the head coach of the defense.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column