If you’ve been paying attention, Harris is essentially replacing Sony Michel with a faster option in the backfield. We know CLNS’ Evan Lazar has noticed. The Patriots expert shared some analysis and a raw compliment for the young running back.
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Damien Harris is “The Real Freakin Deal”
Lazar is known for his in-depth breakdowns of the Patriots and their opponents, before and after games. It’s clear from his words below that he came away very impressed with Harris after the second-year pro trampled the Baltimore Ravens defense to a tune of 121 yards on 22 carries.
Lazar wrote the following to describe Harris’ brilliance in context with the obviously strong play from the offensive line:
“Although the blocking up front deserves plenty of credit, Harris is also getting more than what is blocked on several occasions.”
The best running backs are adept at making something out of little, and also maximizing on the opportunities provided to them by good blocks on the inside and outside. Harris has demonstrated this ability. Harris’ low center of gravity and core strength, but he’s also a little quicker than many of us thought initially.
Along with excellent contact balance and power, Harris also has great vision and solid burst. On Harris’s longest run of the night, the Pats are blocking fullback lead once again. This time, Harris follows behind Johnson, who gets up to the MIKE initially to manipulate the second-level of the defense. With the defense converging on Johnson in the B-gap, Harris smoothly cuts inside to the play-side A-gap, where he runs through an arm tackle and into the secondary. Here’s another example of Harris’s vision and burst. On this run, the Pats are blocking fullback wham, where Thuney lets his man through to Johnson so he can climb to the linebackers. The Ravens shut down the point of attack, but not without cost, as Harris sees Matthew Judon lose his edge and bounces the run outside for another chunk gain.
I’m in the camp of people who firmly believe there are very few backs who aren’t expendable. I still believe the greater value is in a stud offensive line. Having that strength will allow an average back to help provide you a strong running game. That said, I have to partially agree with Lazar’s closing statement.
Analytics nerds say that very few running backs matter because most are a product of their blocking, but Harris is adding a noticeable amount of production on top of his blocking. The 2019 third-round pick brings power, tackle-breaking abilities, vision, and an extra gear to the Pats backfield. He’s the perfect early-down ball carrier for their offense.
It’s Still a Team Effort in the Patriots’ Backfield
As good as Harris has been, we’d be crazy not to acknowledge how money Rex Burkhead has been all season. You could make the argument that he’s been the most steady performer when you factor in health and versatility. He’s played in every, made little-to-no mistakes, and has excelled as a receiver and runner. There really isn’t much more the team could ask of him.
Michel was playing well before he went down, but at this point, there is no telling if he will have a place on the roster once he returns. James White’s leadership and performance in the passing game make him irreplaceable at this point. The team needs what he brings from an on and off-the-field standpoint.
At this point, the Patriots might have the best running back group in the NFL, and that even includes the Cleveland Browns who have one of the league’s best in Nick Chubb and a super backup in Kareem Hunt.
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