Damon Harrison rejuvenating Detroit Lions run defense


Ever since Damon “Snacks” Harrison arrived in Detroit, his impact has been felt. Before the Detroit Lions traded for Harrison from the New York Giants on October 24th, 2018, the Lions had one of the worst run defenses in the league. They were ranked 26th against the run and allowed a league-worst, 5.3 yards per carry.

Since the trade, the Lions have been one of the best run defenses in the league. Over the last three weeks, the Detroit Lions have allowed an average of 49.3 yards rushing; they had been allowing an average of 142.5 yards rushing over the first nine games of the season.

Playing in five games since the trade, Snacks has totaled 22 tackles, three tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. The sample size is small, but his impact has been huge. What are some things that he’s doing that the Lions didn’t have before? For starters, he’s a massive human. He stands 6’3 and weighs 353 pounds, so you can’t miss number 98 when he’s on the field.

Plug the Gap 

More often than not, Damon Harrison is going to plug the A-gap. It doesn’t matter which one it is; all that matters is that he plugs it and stops anything and everything. Whether it was with the New York Jets, the New York Giants, or Detroit, that role will always be first and foremost for him. He’s a prototypical nose tackle, and putting him in one-on-one situations against a center is normally ideal.

However, one-on-one situations don’t always happen. On the play above, Harrison is aligned in a 0-technique, and it quickly turns into a double team. He does a great job holding his ground, and once the left guard starts to lets up, chips off and attacks the linebacker, Harrison fights his way back inside. He does a great job with his right hand to get underneath the center and steer him. Lastly, he uses his left hand to help push-pull his way into the rushing lane of the running back.

Hump Move Leads to Following the Guard 

It seems as if Harrison knows what blocks are coming before they even happen. He does a terrific job reading, engaging and reacting. It’s very rare for him to be slow off the ball, and it’s even rarer for him to get blown up and taken out of a play.

On the play above, Harrison is aligned as a three-technique against the right guard. Once the ball is snapped, the guard steps back and begins to pull down the line of scrimmage. Harrison does a great job reading this and knows the center is going to block down on him. In the process, Harrison uses the hump move to get the center out of the way. Once he does so, he quickly bends down the line and makes the tackle.

Beating the Reach Block 

It’s not every day that you get a 350+ pound defensive lineman who has the lateral ability Harrison has. If you’re an offensive coordinator, you know that you can’t beat Harrison in one-on-one situations. Double teaming him sounds feasible, but it’s clearly a tougher task than most imagine. So what about making him operate in space? Most teams would think that he would struggle in space, but it’s clear that’s not the case.

On the play above, the Vikings are reach blocking in hopes that their running back, Dalvin Cook, can find an opening. Cook is either going to bend back inside, bang it up the middle, or bounce to the outside. As Cook attempts to bend back inside, Harrison shows off his lateral ability and smacks Cook when he tries to cut. Harrison gets in position to make this play with his speed and hand usage.

The Last Word

Without question, the Detroit Lions got a steal in Damon Harrison; it only cost them a fifth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. He carries one of the more expensive contracts for interior defensive linemen, but it’s clear that it’s been worth it. He’s destined to become a free agent after the 2020 season; his cap hit for 2019 is $7 million, and in 2020 it’ll be just over $9 million. Keeping in mind that the Lions have had a tendency to restructure contracts with plenty of veterans, if all goes well they might be able to do the same with Harrison.

It’s clear the Lions need more “Matt Patricia-type” players for their defense, but Harrison has been a huge addition. He’s been scary good for the Lions, and it’s wild to think about how much better he’s going to be with more talent around him. It’s not every day you talk about a mid-season trade that helps rejuvenate a defense, but Damon Harrison has done just that for the Detroit Lions.

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