Anyone who watched the Detroit Lions play football this season saw a discernible difference in the success they had on defense after acquiring defensive tackle Damon Harrison via trade in October. The difference Harrison made was night and day, not only as a run stuffer, but also in his ability to make everyone around him better.
Lions head coach Matt Patricia has a philosophy of building from the ball out. Well, you don’t get any closer to the ball than a 350-pound nose tackle that requires two blockers most of the time. The attention he commands upfront makes things easier on everyone.
Just how valuable was Harrison to the second half success of a Lions' defense that finished the season 10th overall, eighth against the pass and 10th against the run?
“B-gap to B-gap, he’s there,” Lions outside linebacker Devon Kennard told detroitlions.com down in Atlanta before the Super Bowl. “What I love about Snacks is he’s a good teammate. He’s a good friend of mine and he comes and brings it on Sundays. That’s something I admire and respect. He brought an attitude to the defense that was a great addition, of course, and I knew that was going to be the case as soon as I found out the news from playing with him in New York.”
Kennard and Harrison played together for four seasons in New York before teaming up again in Detroit in 2018.
Since acquiring Harrison in Week 8, the Lions held opponents under 65 rushing yards in five games, tied for the NFL high. The team only allowed 3.76 yards per rush, the second lowest in the NFC in that span and allowed only 925 rushing yards, the fourth fewest in the NFC during that stretch.
Over the second half of the season with Harrison, the Lions only surrendered 20 rushes of 10-plus yards on 246 attempts. That’s just 8.1 percent of the attempts faced, tied for the best in the NFL in that span.
Harrison brought an attitude all right, one every player on that side of the ball fed off of, especially when it came to shutting down the run.
“We played on the same side a lot this year,” Kennard said. “They were having trouble running our way. It was a lot of fun.”
Harrison is under contract for two more seasons, which is good news for a defense that might be just a couple playmakers away from being very good.
Harrison has been one of the most consistent producers in the NFL throughout his career, ranking inside the top 10 in terms of overall grade by Pro Football Focus for interior defensive linemen in five of the six years he’s played over 200 snaps.
His 2018 run-stop percentage shows he forces a stop on 14.3 percent of run plays, third best in the league. He was No. 1 in that category from 2014-2017, and ranked second behind J.J. Watt in 2013.
“Honestly, it’s a shame (he doesn’t get more recognition than he does), because he’s a Pro Bowl and All-Pro caliber player,” Kennard said of Harrison. “Like every year he’s getting snubbed. Year after year. I’m not just saying that because he’s a friend of mine. Dude is ridiculous. He’s just a ridiculously good football player.”