Former Ravens DT Michael Pierce On What Makes Stopping Derrick Henry So Challenging

Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Michael Pierce, who was part of a Ravens defense that struggled to stop Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry in the divisional round of the playoffs last January, contrasted Henry to a former Ravens rival to explain why the Titans running back is so difficult to stop.

Pierce signed with the Vikings last spring but opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19. His last game as a Raven was Baltimore’s 28-12 home playoff loss to the Titans, during which Henry ran for 195 yards on 30 carries. This year, he became the eighth player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards (2,027, to be exact).

Henry ran for 133 yards on 28 carries during the Titans’ 30-24 victory against the Ravens in Week 11 this year. He also scored the 29-yard, game-winning touchdown in overtime to cap off an effort in which he wore down the Ravens throughout the course of the game.

Pierce knows why Henry seems to get better as a game goes along, even if he doesn’t start particularly well.

“That’s something that’s special about him. He doesn’t get frustrated a lot,” Pierce said on Glenn Clark Radio Jan. 5. “When we would play the Steelers, if Le’Veon Bell had a rough three quarters, instead of him running at the same pace — the patient style — he may start pressing a little more. That’s as much of a talent as anything. … If you don’t have a great three quarters and you can still play your game and find a way to affect the game and then those big runs hit, that’s tough.”

The other thing? Well, the guy is really big and fast. Henry is listed at 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds, and he ran a 4.54 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2016. Pierce said Henry is the size of most defensive ends and compared him to Ravens edge rusher Jihad Ward, who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 287 pounds.

Here are some of the other backs the Ravens have regularly faced in recent years:

Nick Chubb (5-foot-11, 227 pounds)
Kareem Hunt (5-foot-11, 216 pounds)
Joe Mixon (6-foot-1, 220 pounds)
Giovani Bernard (5-foot-9, 205 pounds)
James Conner (6-foot-1, 233 pounds)

As such, Henry presents a unique challenge.

“You line up against a defensive end who can carry the ball 30 and 40 times and not wear down, that’s different, man, especially if the guys up front don’t do a good job,” Pierce said. “If you’re a DB, that’s a very long day, and you can’t expect those corners and safeties to make 30 or 40 tackles, especially with him building up that kind of speed.

“Normally with a bigger back, you don’t see the long speed. He’s done a really good job of getting, I guess, more explosive laterally. So a lot of those cuts he didn’t make his first two years he makes now without thinking. He’s done an amazing job with where he came into the league.”

The Ravens are No. 8 in the NFL in run defense (108.8 yards per game). One of the biggest storylines heading into wild-card weekend will be whether Baltimore can do a better job containing Henry than it did in the divisional round last year — though getting off to a quick lead may very well help in that regard.

“That’s a tough matchup for anybody. I don’t care who it is,” Pierce said. “You’ve just got to find a way to corral [Henry] and get that ball in the air. Baltimore has some of the best corners in the league with Marcus [Peters] and Marlon [Humphrey]. I’m sure that their game plan, try to get their hands on that ball and keep him under control.”

Pierce also commented on the following topics …

On why the Ravens performed poorly against the Titans last January:

“Depending on who it is, they may or may not have watched the film. I had watched it probably two or three times literally by the next day. We just didn’t come out clicking like we had done in the past. The offense wasn’t clicking like they had done in the past. We were 14-2 on a super long win streak. Obviously, some part of a lot of us was looking somewhat past the Titans, I would say. I felt like a lot of us felt like we were going to make a deep run and see Patrick Mahomes in the AFC [championship game]. In all reality, they were on a roll, kind of like they are now. Dude just ran for 2,000 yards. … To me and to everyone else in Baltimore, nobody has run through and around us like that to my knowledge, ever. I definitely wasn’t expecting it, but sometimes those teams get on a roll, and he was definitely on a roll.”

On whether the divisional-round loss was more about the Ravens or Titans:

“To be honest, I can’t take anything away from them, man, especially in the run game. It still kind of hurts to say: We got physically dominated in that game. At that point, if it was a game where it was a couple of lucky plays, toss-up plays, 50-50 plays, then I would be comfortable just saying, ‘We could’ve won that game at any time,’ or anything like that. When somebody comes in to M&T Bank Stadium and runs like [Henry] ran, I can’t take anything away from him, man. For whatever reason, whether it be the bye, or I kind of looked past them, I felt like we could handle them, just how our team was built last year. They did a phenomenal job that [Saturday]. It’ll be interesting to see if they can do that again, especially with the way Wink game plans.”

On whether the Ravens will have any extra motivation this year:

“I would say it would be a little more chippy because of what happened last year, but in all reality, man, when you play in the playoffs, I don’t care who you’re playing — it’s for the Super Bowl. If anybody tells you anything different, I don’t know. You should play as hard as you can play each and every Sunday, especially in the playoffs. Whether it’s Derrick Henry or Alvin Kamara or Clyde Edwards-Helaire, when the ball is snapped in the playoffs, we shouldn’t have to question your effort, the physicality, none of that stuff. Whether it’s Derrick Henry or anyone else, I’m sure they’re going to give it 110 [percent] once that first snap is taken. Like I said, it may be more chippy because of the history that we just had with those guys, but that shouldn’t change the way anyone plays.”

For more from Pierce, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Luke Jackson

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