Bengals defense focused on containing Henry

CINCINNATI -- As well as the Cincinnati Bengals defense contained Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry in their playoff matchup last season, linebacker Germaine Pratt didn’t particularly like that Henry could use the excuse of not being at his best.

Pratt is looking forward to a chance to show the Bengals can stop the league’s top rusher even when he’s not just coming back from an injury.

Henry missed nine games last year because of a broken bone in his foot, but as the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the Titans had a bye to open the playoffs and the extra week enabled him more time to prepare. The time off between his Oct. 31, 2021, injury and that Jan. 22 return could have impacted his performance, but the Bengals limited him to 62 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries as they squeaked out a 19-16 win to advance to the AFC Championship.

The teams meet again Sunday in a game that could have a big impact on the conference standings, and the Bengals defense will be tested by a fully healthy Henry, who is leading the league with 1,010 yards and 10 touchdowns on 230 carries.

“Basically, in his mind, he wasn’t fully healthy, wasn’t ready fully to go, but he just needed to be out there for his team and try to help them get a win in the playoffs,” Pratt said. “Now he’s like fully healthy. He had the offseason and obviously he’s running better this year so he probably will be ready to go. We gotta be ready to go too, so we just gotta get our mind right and then try to do what we got to do to get him down, gang tackling. That’s what we did last year, and I think we had a great gameplan to stop him and we know what we need to do to do it again.”

Buffalo and Denver are the only teams this season to hold Henry under 80 yards rushing. He had a stretch of five straight games with 100 yards or more before the Broncos limited him to 53 yards on 19 carries in a game the Titans still won, 17-10.

Cincinnati’s run defense hasn’t been as strong as it was in 2021, currently allowing 117.1 rushing yards per game (15th most in the NFL), but DJ Reader missed six games and had a chance to get his feet wet last week in his return, just in time to be 100 percent for the Titans.

“At the beginning of the year, DJ was playing the best football of his career -- he said that,” Pratt said. “It’s big just playing with a great run stopper. DJ is one of the top nose guards in the league, so it’s huge to have him in front of us. Any linebacker in the NFL would want DJ Reader in front of them, available to feed off him because he keeps blocks off you. He keeps blocks off and gives you the ability to run free like I did this past week.”

Pratt is coming off one of the best games of his NFL career as he had eight tackles and two tackles for losses. Reader didn’t have a single tackle in the 37-30 win at Pittsburgh on Sunday, but sometimes his impact doesn’t show in his personal stats as it does the linebackers behind him.

Reader played a big role in stopping the run last year at Tennessee and finished that game with six tackles, two tackles for losses and one quarterback hit. Stopping Henry will take a collective effort, though.

“I think he’s probably the biggest and he’s just a tough runner,” linebacker Logan Wilson said. “He’s good side-to-side and there’s really nothing he can’t do as a runner. Then his size is what sets him apart from most backs in this league. He’s just hard to bring down. You have to bring more than one hat to the ball at all times.”

Wilson said last year’s matchup “doesn’t really mean a whole lot” now, but there are some similarities in the game plan then and now. The Bengals don’t need to do anything out of the ordinary if they are all playing their role.

Because of how physical the Titans are, Cincinnati’s depth on defense will get tested, just like that playoff game, but regardless of who is on the field, the Bengals have confidence in their “gang tackling” ability.

“That’s something that we work as a team, they work individually as a defense going through their tackling circuit as well,” Taylor said. “They take great pride in rallying to the ball, getting the ball carrier down and not missing tackles, being on the scene as quickly as possible. I think that’s what great defenses do and we have a great defense.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Titans, 1 p.m., Ch. 7, 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104,.7

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