Free Press writers Shawn Windsor, Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez break down what went wrong in the Lions’ 28-14 loss to the Seahawks, Oct. 28, 2018.
Detroit Free Press, Detroit Free Press
Matt Patricia was cautiously optimistic the day after the Detroit Lions acquired Damon Harrison in a trade from the New York Giants last week.
Patricia acknowledged Harrison’s obvious talent as one of the best interior run defenders in the NFL, but “it’s about the game plan,” he warned. “It’s a full team effort.”
Patricia’s pragmatic approach proved prescient Sunday as Harrison had an impressive debut with seven tackles, two for loss, and one sack, but the Lions still couldn’t stop the run as the Seattle Seahawks rolled up 176 yards on the ground in a 28-14 win.
“I think he really tried to do some of the things that we needed him to do with him out there,” Patricia said Monday. “There’s certainly some of the situations that came up that will improve with time, experience and the defense itself, some of the techniques and stuff. But I think the effort and everything like that was great. He was really trying to do everything he could to help us in his limited time here. We’ll build on it, we’ll keep going, but it was obviously a first step.”
Harrison played 39 of a possible 63 defensive snaps on Sunday, and the Lions were significantly better on run defense when he was on the field.
The Lions allowed 83 yards rushing on 26 attempts (3.2 yards per carry) with Harrison in the lineup, and 84 yards on 15 attempts (5.6 ypc) with him on the sideline. Those numbers do include punter Michael Dickson’s 9-yard run in the fourth quarter.
“We got to learn how to play off him,” Lions defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois said. “A guy like that was All-Pro, top three, maybe No. 1 in run stopping, we got to learn to how to play off that dude. We have to. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to stop the run.”
The Seahawks had runs of 9 and 6 yards on their first two offensive plays with Harrison on the sideline, then gained 1 yard on their third snap after Harrison entered the game.
And a Free Press film review of his play Sunday showed Harrison’s impact went beyond the numbers.
Harrison’s biggest play Sunday was the third-and-goal stop he made on running back Chris Carson from the 1-yard line.
Harrison lined up directly over right guard J.R. Sweezy as part of a four-man defensive line, with outside linebackers Devon Kennard and Christian Jones playing from a stand-up position on the right and left edges, respectively, and middle linebacker Jarrad Davis three yards off the ball in the end zone.
Harrison had two-gap responsibilities on the play, and his mammoth size (355 pounds) helped keep Carson out of the end zone. The big nose tackle peeked inside to the A gap as Carson took a handoff from Russell Wilson, with Davis coming down behind him, which forced Carson to bounce the play right off Sweezy’s outside hip.
But Harrison shed Sweezy with ease and turned his big body into a brick wall to stand up Carson at the goal line.
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The Seahawks double-teamed Harrison most of the game on running plays – Harrison also split a double-team by Sweezy and center Justin Britt on his sack – but that didn’t prevent Harrison from both making plays himself and freeing up other Lions to do the same.
On the Seahawks’ second possession of the second quarter, with Seattle looking to extend its 14-7 lead, Harrison devoured two blockers, Britt and right guard D.J. Fluker, on a stretch play to the left.
With Britt unable to detach from Harrison and get to his second-level block, Davis had free roam in the middle of the field and darted quickly down the line to meet Carson as soon as he turned upfield for a 1-yard gain.
Later in the second quarter, Harrison drew a chop-block penalty when Sweezy tried diving at his legs as he was engaged in a block with Britt. Harrison didn’t flinch at the block and moved nimbly down the line, gobbling up space and forcing Carson to cutback where A’Shawn Robinson made a tackle 2 yards downfield.
As Patricia said, Harrison wasn’t perfect.
On Seattle’s biggest run of the third quarter, the 340-pound Fluker, who played well Sunday, was able to turn Harrison outside and create a lane that Carson sliced through for 9 yards.
On first-and-10 from the Lions 23 after a big pass to tight end Ed Dickson, Harrison lined up directly over Britt and tried to split a double-team between the center and right guard. Fluker beat Harrison to the spot and outmuscled him to the ground as Britt kicked out to block Davis.
Two snaps later, the Seahawks ran the same play, with Harrison again playing head-up on Britt, and Fluker once again got to Harrison’s outside shoulder to wall him off as Carson ran for 6 yards.
Overall, though, Harrison had an impressive debut. His play exceeded his stat line, and should be something the Lions’ 31st-ranked rushing defense can build on this year.
“He had a good impact because now, people are going to focus on him,” Jean Francois. “You can’t not focus on Snacks. If you do that, leave him one on one, he’s (going) to make every play.”
Contact Dave Birkett: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Download our Lions Xtra app for free on Apple and Android!