James Harrison's role, contributions grow in Patriots' victory

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the New England Patriots signed outside linebacker James Harrison on Dec. 26, analysts suggested the transaction was more about Pittsburgh Steelers-based intelligence than anything (which is now a moot point after the Steelers lost to the Jaguars on Sunday).

But as the past two weeks have shown, the Patriots had a significant need for a player like Harrison, whose strength at the end of the line of scrimmage has helped set a hard edge in the running game. Harrison has also had pass-rushing opportunities, while dropping into coverage at times.

Harrison played 30 of a possible 67 defensive snaps in Saturday's divisional-round victory over the Tennessee Titans. He played 27 of a possible 59 defensive snaps in the regular-season finale against the New York Jets.

So in two games since joining the team, Harrison has played 57 of 126 defensive snaps (45.2 percent). He has eight tackles and two sacks (both at the end of the Jets game, when the outcome was already decided).

"He's been good to work with," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Sunday on his day-after conference call. "As we know, he's a very experienced player. Some of our terminology is different, but he understands basic football concepts very well, and what his responsibility is, and how to play that responsibility.

"He's been good. He's been very dependable. The things he's been asked to do, he's done. You can count on him, and that's a good thing. It allows everybody to play aggressively. He's an aggressive player and he's been productive."

Belichick pointed out that Harrison "had several good plays against the run" in the win over the Titans, and "caused a penalty." He also said "he's given us some plays in pass rush and he has good awareness in pass coverage; he's dropped into coverage and done a good job on that.

"He's very professional. He wants to do well. He studies. He asks questions. I've enjoyed working with him."

Harrison had played 40 snaps in his 14 games with the Steelers this season, and has already surpassed that total in two games with the Patriots. He leads off this week's snap-count analysis:

Offense: 81

Defense: 67


Trey Flowers: 51

James Harrison: 30

Deatrich Wise Jr.: 27

Eric Lee: 21

Geneo Grissom: 10

Harrison opened the game in the base package, so when the Titans had two tight ends or a fullback in the game, the Patriots would counter with their base/big package. As the game progressed, coordinator Matt Patricia mixed in pass-rush opportunities for Harrison (e.g., end of the second quarter in obvious passing situations). Harrison's presence has the team relying less on Lee, who had been signed off the Buffalo Bills' practice squad on Nov. 21 and had played 73.3 percent of the defensive snaps before Harrison arrived.


Malcom Brown: 29

Adam Butler: 26

Lawrence Guy: 23

Ricky Jean Francois: 23

The biggest surprise came before the game, when Alan Branch, who had declared himself healthy from a knee injury, was inactive. Jean Francois got the nod over him and seemed to perform well (one tackle, one sack)


Kyle Van Noy: 45

Marquis Flowers: 44

Elandon Roberts: 20

Nicholas Grigsby: 8

Roberts' 20 snaps were his fewest since the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, when the Patriots had Van Noy and Dont'a Hightower as their top two linebackers. Flowers, who has been coming on in recent weeks, cut into his playing time.


Stephon Gilmore: 67

Malcolm Butler: 67

Eric Rowe: 52

Jonathan Jones: 8

The high snap count for Rowe, the team's No. 3 corner, reflects how the team played mostly sub defense (nickel, dime, seven DBs) in the game. Gilmore was one of the Patriots' top performers, breaking up a pass in the first quarter, and breaking decisively on another play along the sideline that was incomplete.


Patrick Chung: 67

Devin McCourty: 51

Duron Harmon: 46

Jordan Richards: 22

Getting McCourty time on the sideline later in the game is an under-the-radar development that could help him from a health standpoint, as he had been on the injury report in Week 17 (shoulder) and appeared hobbled after the Patriots' fourth-down stop.


Brandin Cooks: 76

Chris Hogan: 67

Danny Amendola: 50

Matthew Slater: 3

Phillip Dorsett: 0

Hogan's high workload after missing seven of the final eight regular-season games with a shoulder injury reflected how he is viewed as the No. 2 on the team's depth chart and there was no need to ease him back in. Dorsett was dressed for the game, but didn't play, as he was insurance in the event of injury on a day the Patriots appeared to want to run a lot of three-receiver groupings as that was likely viewed as the most favorable matchup.


Rob Gronkowski: 74

Dwayne Allen: 23

Jacob Hollister: 7

With more snaps played with three receivers on the field, and Gronkowski only coming off late in the game when the outcome was decided, it meant Allen's workload was lessened.


Dion Lewis: 43

James White: 32

Brandon Bolden: 6

Lewis has played 51, 52 and now 43 snaps in the Patriots' past three games. As Belichick said, he's shown he can "carry the mail" in college at Pittsburgh, and the Patriots are relying on him to do it again. He's their most dynamic playmaker on offense.


James Develin: 24

It's a challenge to run against the Titans, but Develin delivered some of his trademark lead blocks, with the most notable thud coming as he led the way on Bolden's 2-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.


LT Nate Solder: 81

LG Joe Thuney: 81

RG Shaq Mason: 81

C David Andrews: 78

RT LaAdrian Waddle: 46

RT Cameron Fleming: 35

C Ted Karras: 3

Waddle left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury and initial tests indicate that he dodged a potential serious injury with a knee sprain. How quickly he might recover to be able to play, however, remains a question mark.


Tom Brady: 78

Brian Hoyer: 3

Brady gave way to Hoyer for the final three kneel-downs.