THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – The stage was set for a primetime showdown between the NFL's leading rusher and the Rams defense, until Derrick Henry suffered a foot injury last week that will sideline him indefinitely.
As competitors, Rams players and coaches are disappointed they won't get the chance. They also know better than to alter their approach based on a different-looking Titans backfield.
"First of all, like I've said on multiple occasions, I hate that because he's a great football player. He's a dominant player," Rams head coach Sean McVay said earlier this week. "I love watching the way this guy has competed and really done so many special things for that offense over the last handful of years, and really from his career, even dating back to when he's winning the Heisman at Alabama. And so, I hate that part of our game. Anytime as a competitor you want to be able to go against the best and he's been by far the best running back."
Henry led the league in rushing by a sizable margin prior to his injury. Colts running back Jonathan Taylor, the NFL's second-leading rusher, 649 entering Week 8 – 288 yards less than Henry's league-high 937.
In wake of Henry undergoing foot surgery, Tennessee signed veteran running back Adrian Peterson and fourth-year pro D'Onta Foreman to their practice squad.
Peterson is reportedly expected to be elevated to the active roster ahead of Sunday night's game. The Titans also have Jeremy McNichols – seven carries for 38 yards through eight games spelling Henry this season – on their active roster.
Peterson still commands attention from opposing defenses even in his mid-30s. In 16 games for the Lions last season, he posted 156 carries for 604 yards and seven touchdowns.
No matter what the Titans' backfield combination looks like, whether it's Peterson, Peterson and Foreman splitting early down work with McNichols rotating in on third down, Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has Week 7's Thursday Night Football game between the Broncos and the Browns as a recent example for changing an approach based on a star player being sidelined. With both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt out, Browns running back D'Ernest Johnson popped off for 22 carries for 146 yards and one touchdown in a 17-14 Browns win.
"We didn't know who the Cleveland running back (D'Ernest Johnson) was a couple of weeks ago that went out there and (he) ran all over – so, another team – (but) we don't want to fall victim to that," Morris said. "We got to go out there and play the philosophy of this team, the mentality of this team, we got to match it and we got to do better."
Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald echoed a similar mindset.
"Well, he's a big part of that offense," Donald said of Henry. "Obviously, he'd been productive year in and year out, so we know what he can do. But they still got some other backs that could make things happen, so our mindset is to still play physical, stop the run and get opportunity to rush the quarterback."