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Documenting the Defense

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Browns want '11 hats around the ball' when Derrick Henry has it

It’ll be a unique challenge for a Cleveland D that ranks 11th in average yards allowed per carry

The Browns defense will face one of its most difficult matchups of the season Sunday in its Week 13 battle against the Tennessee Titans.

This matchup, however, is a bit different than others we've highlighted this season. It's not a one-on-one player battle. It's not a competition against a quarterback. It's not about one position group going against another.

This week, it's about one player going up against, well, the entire defense. 

The player is Derrick Henry, a five-year veteran who has become one of the premier backs in the NFL. His game contains a rare blend of size and speed that can make him unstoppable, and his prowess has helped him build a 127-yard lead atop the league's rushing leaderboard.

Henry, who won the 2019 NFL rushing title, has gashed defenses all season — he's recorded less than 100 rushing yards in only four games. The Browns, though, will have to find a way to stop him.

"It's going to be a big challenge this week," coach Kevin Stefanski said. "I think we have to make sure that we are gap sound, No. 1. You have to defeat blocks versus a team like this. You have to defeat your one-on-one blocks, and then you have to gang tackle. It does present a big challenge."

Henry's size sticks out first. At 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds, he's built more like a linebacker than a running back. Nick Chubb, who finished 46 yards behind Henry on the rushing leaderboard last season, is five inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter. Henry almost always has the size advantage on players outside of the line of scrimmage, which makes him arguably the toughest player to tackle in the league.

Then, there's his speed. His longest run of the season happened in Week 6 when he exploded through the Texans defense for 94 yards. Defenders sprinted a few feet behind him for the entire run, but his speed, which topped out at 21.6 mph, overpowered the whole defense.

His ball carrying ability is elite, too. He has yet to fumble the ball this season and has just six fumbles in his career. Five of them came last season. The Titans are second in the NFL with a +11 turnover differential and have a league-low five giveaways. Henry's ball security is a major factor in both numbers.

To many defenses, he's uncontrollable.

"He's very unique because he has size, he has speed and he has excellent vision," defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. "He can make the cuts, hit it inside, bounce it outside. He can run by you. He can run through you ... I think I named about everything."

The Browns defense, which is 11th in the league with an opposing average of 4.1 yards per rushing attempt, must find a way to stop him. Stefanski stressed proper tackling technique as a way to do it, but Henry won't be brought down easily with one defender. Any players in the area will have to join the effort.

"You have to have 11 hats around the ball," Stefanski said. "He is outstanding. He is physical. He is fast. He is just an outstanding running back. Everybody knows that. You watch the tape. It is a big challenge. You have to be sound and disciplined in your run fits.

The Browns haven't seen a running back of Henry's caliber all season, but that doesn't mean they're not equipped to stop him. To do that, everyone will have to be ready to charge as soon as he's given the ball.

That's why this week's most important matchup is unique. It's one guy versus 11 others in Nashville, and the whole defense must be ready to wrap up and take down one of the most special players in football.

"We can't control how many touches he's going to have," Woods said. "Our focus is going to be on having the best run defense and eliminate the big runs. We acknowledge and realize he might have a big run here or there, but we really just have to eliminate the big ones and do our best to get him bottled up before he gets going."

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