David Harris finally sees playing time in win over Falcons
John Tlumacki / Boston Globe
The Patriots defense dominated in all phases of the game last night, shutting out the Atlanta Falcons for 56 minutes and holding 2016 MVP Matt Ryan to just 233 passing yards. But in the fallout from the impressive performance, one individual effort flew under the radar: that of linebacker David Harris.
Harris was positioned to be the primary backup to Dont'a Hightower heading into the season, but the veteran played sparingly over the first six games: he got in on a whopping seven combined snaps against the Chiefs, Saints, and Texans and didn't play at all in Weeks 4 and 5. Against the Falcons, he played 19 out of 57 defensive plays, nearly tripling his season total to date.
Part of that was due to Hightower's shoulder injury, suffered in the third quarter. After the star middle linebacker left, Harris saw more time on the field and even called a couple plays. However, the increase wasn't due completely to unforeseen circumstances; ESPN's Mike Reiss pointed out the Patriots deliberately used three linebackers--Harris, Hightower, and Kyle Van Noy--for much of the night to counter Atlanta's "21" personnel (two running backs, one tight end, two wide receivers). The specific inclusion of Harris in the gameplan (with fellow linebacker Elandon Roberts injured) is a massive vote of confidence from the coaching staff going forward.
Head coach Bill Belichick complimented the first-year Patriot's performance, noting that "He did all the right things that we would want him to do from an assignment standpoint. He gave us some good plays, he was in on a few plays. He handled the communication and the front well. We'll see if we can build on it." After the way the Pats defense played in primetime, there are certainly a lot of positives to build on in the coming weeks. It's finally beginning to look like Harris might be a part of that effort.