By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — During a season, NFL players don’t often get time for themselves. With the meetings and the practices and the workouts and the treatment, the daily grind is quite extensive.
So when Patriots players were given three days off at the end of last week on their playoff bye, they were given a rare opportunity to kick their feet up, perhaps play a little Xbox, or just let their overworked brains reset a little bit.
James Harrison, though, chose to work out. Hard. That is what Harrison does in his free time.
“God created the universe in 6 days. I need a full 365 just to stay in shape,” Harrison wrote for his Instagram caption on a video of him benching 405 pounds.
If you’ve ever seen Harrison’s Instagram page, you know these videos were par for the course. But to paraphrase the great Bill Parcells, Harrison just might be given a reason for lifting all them weights come Saturday night in Foxboro.
With a run-heavy Titans coming off a 156-yard performance from Derrick Henry, the Patriots’ defense is going to want to shut that running game down before it can ever get in a rhythm in Foxboro. And while Harrison’s two sacks in garbage time of Week 17’s win over the Jets showed up on the stat sheet, he could prove to be much more useful in a less-heralded but equally significant role for New England in the divisional round of the playoffs.
What the Patriots need Harrison to do on Saturday is simple: Be big, be strong, be disciplined. In limited action against the Jets, he proved capable.
Here’s a first-quarter run by Elijah McGuire to the left side of the Jets’ formation. Harrison was lined up on the right side of the Patriots’ defensive line, in a position that made it appear as if he was preparing more for a sumo wrestling match than a football play:
At the snap, the Jets (who were in a run-heavy formation) double-teamed Harrison.
The tight end then left Harrison to go out and get Stephon Gilmore, which allowed Harrison to push his man (tackle Ben Ijalana) into the backfield before separating and creating a wall to seal off the edge and force McGuire to cut the run inside. Harrison and Elandon Roberts combined for the tackle a yard for a one-yard loss:
That’s the type of play the Patriots could really benefit from against the Titans, especially when you consider that Henry racked up 141 of his 156 yards when running to the left side last week in Kansas City. The Chiefs were simply unable to stop it, but if the Patriots can provide some resistance, the game will become much more difficult for the limited Titans offense.
On another Jets run to the left side that went for no gain, Harrison was actually blocked pretty well by receiver Jermaine Kearse. But he maintained his position on the field, at least, and Marquis Flowers got around his block to make a tackle in the backfield.
Harrison probably shot a bit too far into the backfield on a Bilal Powell run late in the second quarter:
It proved to be a no harm, no foul situation, as Powell hesitated behind the line, and guard James Carpenter didn’t really give a championship effort against Ricky Jean-Francois, thus leading to Powell getting swarmed for a one-yard loss.
The Jets did rip off a big gain to the left side — a 24-yarder from Powell in the first quarter — but Harrison was lined up on the opposite side on that run.
Harrison also showed that if need be, he can drop into a zone in coverage, and he can also close ground in a hurry. Here’s how far away he was from the speedy Robby Anderson before bursting toward the line of scrimmage and making a solid tackle:
Harrison is certainly not the most important person on the Patriots’ defense as the team begins to embark on its postseason journey. But it’s likely that Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia ask Harrison to play a very specific role, one that requires Harrison to occupy bodies, clog lanes, and seal off the edge to prevent Henry from getting around the corner to break off a big run — much like the one Henry made to seal the win in Kansas City. (Mariota may not be very interested in throwing a block on Harrison, for the record.)
It might not show up on the stat sheet too much, and it won’t lead to much glory. But if Harrison excels in doing the dirty work against the Titans, it’ll likely help propel him to the stage he envisioned when signing with the Patriots: An AFC title game against the Steelers.