James Harrison’s arrival in Foxborough wasn’t met with an at-length scouting report from his new head coach. Rather, the day after the 39-year-old became a New England Patriot, Bill Belichick discussed the signing as if each word cost a dollar.
“He’s played outside linebacker for the Steelers. We’ll see how it goes,” Belichick said of Harrison’s playing style in that Dec. 27 press conference, via Patriots.com. When asked for his thoughts on Harrison’s career, Belichick offered, “Good.” And as for New England’s past encounters with the longtime Pittsburgh pass-rusher, “Every player is different,” is what he cautioned.
Not exactly a dissertation on directional punting or the evolution of the 46 defense.
But Belichick has much more to say about Harrison now than he did three weeks ago. There’s a little more to go on with two games, 57 snaps, eight tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble on his Patriots resume.
“He’s been good to work with,” Belichick told reporters on Sunday’s conference call. “He’s, as we know, a very experienced player. And even though some of our terminology is different, he understands basic football concepts very well – what his responsibility is and how to play that responsibility. So, he’s been good. He’s been very dependable. The things he’s been asked to do, he’s done.”
Harrison, who saw 40 snaps for the Steelers this season before being waived on Dec. 23, was asked to step in as early as the second one Saturday night versus the Tennessee Titans.
No. 92 dropped into the flat in that instance. And two plays later, he set the edge against two-time Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker and one-armed 6-foot-3, 247-pound running back Derrick Henry to the ground for no gain.
Harrison posted three tackles in the 35-14 divisional-round win at Gillette Stadium, also halting Henry on a pickup of three and chasing after wide receiver Eric Decker 22 yards downfield. He wasn’t among the six members of the Patriots’ front who sacked quarterback Marcus Mariota a franchise-playoff-record eight times, but in an early-down, stand-up role, he was among those who filled out the background to contain him.
It was Harrison’s 20th playoff game.
“You can count on him, and that’s a good thing,” Belichick said. “Allows everybody to play aggressively, and he’s an aggressive player. He’s been productive. He had several good plays against the run last night, caused a penalty, and was part of stopping a drive with his good play out there on the perimeter. He’s given us some plays in pass rush, and he’s got good awareness in pass coverage. He’s dropped into coverage and done a good job on that in a couple examples the last two games.”
The 2002 undrafted free agent out of Kent State logged eight snaps in run support, five snaps in pass coverage and 13 snaps in pass rush when excluding pre-snap flags versus Tennessee. Harrison also drew a flag, as a hold from Titans rookie Jonnu Smith wiped out a chain-moving run from Henry, who finished with 28 yards after amassing 156 on wild-card weekend.
A quick integration it has been.
Harrison finds himself on the doorstep of his sixth AFC Championship Game, and with an organization that has punched a ticket to seven straight. The NFL’s oldest active defensive player appeared on that stage for the first time versus New England as a special-teamer back in January 2005.
Plenty has been gleaned since then. Since Dec. 27, too.
So, there’s reason for Belichick to be a little more expansive when it comes to Harrison. More is known on both ends.
“He’s been good to work with,” added Belichick. “He’s very professional, wants to do well, studies, asks questions. I’ve enjoyed working with him.”