EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If there is one thing you shouldn’t do when playing against the New York Giants, it’s line up and slam the ball into the middle of the line. That’s where Damon Harrison plays, and where Harrison plays, it’s hard to find even the slightest of crevices.
Perhaps no player in the NFL is better at stopping the run than the Giants’ 355-pound human barricade. It doesn’t matter if he’s double-teamed or facing the league’s best center. Harrison, a nose tackle, not only plugs all holes, he often makes the tackle himself, with 600-plus pounds of offensive linemen hanging on his back.
“I don’t think there is any center in the NFL that can one-on-one block this guy,” said Dalvin Tomlinson, a second-year defensive lineman out of Alabama who plays alongside Harrison.
The Texans often assigned two offensive linemen to Harrison on Sunday. To no avail. He finished with seven tackles on 35 snaps. No wonder Houston, which came into the contest No. 1 in the NFL in rushing, was able to get just 10 yards on 10 carries from running back Lamar Miller.
“Pretty good contact with the ball for a defensive nose man, nose tackle. It was really good,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said. “He had, I think he played 35 plays, which is a pretty good load for him. He’s tough, competitive, he gets himself ready to play every Sunday, and he’s hard to block in there. ... Snacks can be a force.”
“He really had a nose and knack for the ball," Houston center Nick Martin said. "The way he goes over top and the big man he is, he’s just a really good nose guard in the run game. A lot of respect there.”
The New Orleans Saints visit MetLife Stadium this week and may need to find other ways to attack the Giants' defense.
Harrison is second among all defensive linemen this season with 17 tackles. Only Cleveland’s Larry Ogunjobi has more (18). And Harrison has done all his damage on just 55 run snaps. That’s a tackle for every three running plays ... by a nose tackle, a position generally reserved for players who occupy blockers so others can compile the lofty statistics.
Good thing for New Orleans it is a pass-first team that enters the contest 28th in the NFL in rushing offense.
“[Harrison is] a guy that is pretty much unstoppable inside,” linebacker Alec Ogletree said. “He eats up the run game. I really haven’t played with anyone quite like that. You can’t block him one-on-one. If you try to do that, he’s going to throw him out the way and make the tackle himself.”
This frees up the Giants' middle linebackers to make plays in the run game and not overcommit on play-action passes. It at least gives them an advantage and should help them in the long run.
In the first three weeks of the season, Harrison and the Giants held Leonard Fournette (who left early with an injury), Ezekiel Elliott and Miller to 121 yards rushing on 36 carries in the first three games combined. They’ll have their sights set on Alvin Kamara and the Saints on Sunday afternoon.
Considering Kamara’s stature and skill set, expect the Saints to attack somewhere other than the middle of the New York defense. At least not when Harrison’s in the game.
Giants starting center John Greco has played against Harrison before. He’s tried to block him with the Browns and throughout the summer with the Giants. The veteran puts Harrison up in a class with former Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton and the Williams brothers (Pat and Kevin) with the Vikings among the best run-stoppers he’s faced.
Harrison led the NFL last season with 40 run stops and a 13.4 run-stop percentage, according to Pro Football Focus. It was his third straight season with at least 40 run stops.
“He’s up there for sure with some of the best,” Greco said.