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Film breakdown: How Damon Harrison Sr. is already helping the Lions run defense

Look beyond the stat sheet, the Lions run defense is already getting better.

Seattle Seahawks v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The debut of Damon Harrison Sr. was sadly drowned out by an overall poor performance from the Detroit Lions. Not only did the Lions get blown out of their own stadium, but their run defense—which “Snacks” was supposed to fix—looked just as bad as ever. Or at least it did in the box score.

Harrison was actually extremely impressive when he was in the game, and the Lions clearly benefited from his addition. As Dave Birkett pointed out, the Seahawks ran for just 3.3 yards per carry with “Snacks” in the game, and 5.6 with him off the field. Sunday could have played out a lot worse had Harrison not dominated like he did. And don’t get it twisted, Harrison dominated against the Seahawks.

Don’t just trust me. Let’s watch the film.

One of the biggest narratives following the trade was just how much a guy like Jarrad Davis would benefit from a true nose tackle eating up space in the middle of the field. That’s not just lip service, that’s exactly what happened on Sunday.

The key to this run is the play of the center. Combined with the right guard, they’re supposed to combo block Harrison (the nose tackle), leading to the center escaping to the second level and taking Davis (the middle linebacker) out of the play. But combo-blocking Harrison is much easier said than done:

No. 68 can’t get a hand on Davis, and the Lions linebacker can patiently wait to see which hole Seahawks running back Chris Carson chooses. Once Carson picks the outside lane, Davis’ speed and power are on full display.

FOX announcer Chris Spielman absolutely nails it on the commentary after the play.

“The guy that’s the beneficiary of bringing in Damon Harrison is Jarrad Davis,” Spielman said. “Linebackers and inside defensive linemen, it’s a good marriage.”

But Davis and the rest of the linebacking crew aren’t the only players that stand to benefit from Harrison’s addition. A’Shawn Robinson also had a hell of a game, and part of that was due to playing alongside “Snacks.”

On this play, Robinson is a backside defender to the play. The Seahawks are so worried about Harrison that they’re forced to leave themselves vulnerable to A’Shawn. Look at his alignment over the left tackle. He has a potential easy track to the inside if he gets a good first step and recognizes the play quickly. Here’s how it plays out.

Let’s start with Harrison. He has completely eaten up the double team—forcing one defender to the ground—and still has inside leverage towards the intended A-gap. His double team has also freed up Jarrad Davis again, and thanks to a strong bullrush from Da’Shawn Hand, Carson is forced to find a cutback lane.

This is where A’Shawn needs to shine. As you can see in the screenshot above, he does indeed get the leverage over the left tackle’s right shoulder, and it’s an easy cleanup play for the third-year player.

Not only did Harrison help free up a defender to make a short gain, but he actually draws a chop-block penalty on the play, costing the Seahawks 15 valuable yards.

But Harrison can’t do everything, and that was obvious on Sunday. Detroit allowed 176 rushing yards and 4.2 yards per carry. You’re not going to win a lot of football games with those numbers, and the Lions will need better performances from Harrison’s supporting cast.

Here, Harrison is eating up a double team, and it once again frees up Davis to use his athleticism and instincts to make a play. It’s no easy play for Davis, but just about everyone around him made the play easier for him. Let’s just go straight to the video:

There’s a lot going on here, but first look at Devon Kennard off the offense’s right edge. He immediately knifes into the backfield, and it forces Carson to redirect his route backwards a yard or two. That costs him valuable time that should benefit the defense moving forward.

Now to Jarrad Davis. Davis is just about as quick as Carson when it comes to straight-line speed. Carson recorded a 4.58 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, while Davis hit 4.62 at Florida’s Pro Day. But Davis doesn’t trust his instincts and eyes, hesitates, then trips over the Seahawks tight end. It costs the Lions the edge, and if Christian Jones doesn’t shed his block, it’s likely an easy score for Carson.

So while Harrison clearly makes the team better, the Lions will need to clean up their act. They need Ricky Jean Francois to play better when “Snacks” is off the field, and they need the second level to play up to their potential.

But don’t lose hope, either. The Lions clearly made strides by adding Harrison to the group. The Seahawks are not an easy team to stop on the ground, and watching the film, there’s actually a lot to like about Detroit’s performance. With more experience together, I actually believe this run defense could be good.

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After winning their first NFC North title in 30 years, the Lions have unfinished business this offseason. Stay updated with Jeremy Reisman through Pride of Detroit Direct, our newsletter offering up exclusive analysis. Sign up with NFCNORTH30 to get 30% off after your free trial.