FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Outside linebacker James Harrison hasn’t even been with the New England Patriots for a month, but as the past three games show, the team is relying on him as if he had been along for the ride the whole way.
Harrison played 32 of 74 snaps in Sunday’s victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game. Since signing with New England on Dec. 26, he has been on the field for 89 of a possible 200 defensive snaps (44.5 percent).
In 14 games with the Steelers earlier this season, he had played a total of 40 snaps.
The contrast highlights, in part, how the Patriots had a greater need for Harrison as an edge-setting presence. They are mostly using him in their base defense, while finding him opportunities to rush the quarterback at times.
After totaling three tackles and a quarterback hit against the Jaguars, Harrison has 11 tackles in three games with the Patriots. He has shown a knack for pressing opposing quarterbacks late in games, in obvious passing situations.
“It feels good, but like I’ve said before, this is all God’s plan. This is all his doing,” Harrison said Sunday, when asked how he feels about advancing to Super Bowl LII. “I’m just reaping the benefits of it right now.”
As for the Jaguars, Harrison acknowledged their approach surprised him.
“We thought we were going to get a lot more runs than we did. They did a good job of mixing it up in the first half and we weren’t doing too well to stop them,” he said. “But the second half, we came out and played a better half. We really didn’t make adjustments. They’re a good team. We just had to come out there and play better.”
Harrison’s playing time leads off this week’s snap-count analysis:
Offense: 64 (third fewest this season)
Kyle Van Noy: 69
Elandon Roberts: 52
James Harrison: 32
Marquis Flowers: 18
With the Patriots focused on stopping the running game and playing more base and nickel packages, it meant more snaps for Roberts, whose strength is playing downhill with a physical edge, than Flowers, who is faster and more suited to a game played in space. Van Noy’s return to full health in recent weeks, which is reflected in his high snap count, has been key.
Trey Flowers: 71
Eric Lee: 35
Deatrich Wise Jr.: 18
Flowers seemed to get stronger as the game went on, and looked like the Patriots’ best defender on the field. Lee, whose playing time has decreased a bit since Harrison’s arrival, was primarily part of the nickel package while Wise was essentially a designated pass-rusher in obvious passing situations (he drew one holding penalty).
Lawrence Guy: 58
Malcom Brown: 58
Adam Butler: 12
This was a season-high total for Guy, and the second-highest mark for Brown (64 vs. Miami when Alan Branch went out with an injury), which showed how the Patriots relied on their top two big-bodied tackles to clog things up inside against the run. Jean Francois was the third option over Branch, who said his knee is healthy enough to play. Butler, the undrafted free agent from Vanderbilt, played only in pass-rushing situations.
Devin McCourty: 74
Patrick Chung: 74
Duron Harmon: 20
Chung absorbed a big hit on the Jaguars’ first drive and that might have knocked him off course a bit, as he had some bouts with inconsistency. Harmon’s low snap total was a result of the “Big Nickel” three-safety package not being a big part of the plan.
Stephon Gilmore: 74
Malcolm Butler: 74
Eric Rowe: 46
Gilmore said his final pass breakup was the No. 1 play of his career because of the stakes involved. Rowe remains the No. 3 corner, as the three-corner nickel was a significant part of the plan.
Brandin Cooks: 64
Chris Hogan: 58
Danny Amendola: 48
The three-receiver package was the Patriots’ primary grouping, even though the game started with the Patriots trying to attack the Jaguars’ base defense by going with bigger personnel (e.g., FB James Develin on the field for the first three snaps). Dorsett made the most of his limited opportunity with a nice catch on a flea-flicker. Cooks never came off the field, as his durability/availability has been duly noted by Bill Belichick.
Dwayne Allen: 39
Rob Gronkowski: 26
Allen played just one snap before Gronkowski was injured late in the second quarter, so his day went from one in which he was likely to play few snaps to getting plenty. He seemed to respond well. Rookie Jacob Hollister was inactive for the first time since the season opener, with the team using multiple players to fill his special-teams roles, which included linebacker Nicholas Grigsby and Bademosi.
James Develin: 15
This wasn’t a big running game, so Develin’s usage seemed more tied to creating favorable matchups in the passing game than as a battering-ram lead blocker.
James White: 33
Dion Lewis: 31
Rex Burkhead: 3
Although there was no official injury announcement, Burkhead might have been nicked up a bit early after taking a hit.
LT Nate Solder: 64
LG Joe Thuney: 64
C David Andrews: 64
RG Shaq Mason: 64
RT Cameron Fleming: 64
They held up their end of the bargain, because when they break down, the offense usually can’t get on track. Fleming was back in for LaAdrian Waddle (knee), who wasn’t ready for action.
Tom Brady: 64
Those final kneel-downs were hard-earned snaps.