FOXBORO, Mass. — Duron Harmon took a page out of Devin McCourty’s book when he halted any chance of a Pittsburgh Steelers comeback last Thursday night.
Harmon delivered the dagger with a clutch fourth-quarter interception in the New England Patriots’ 28-21 Week 1 win. Bill Belichick praised Harmon for his range on the play in the Patriots head coach’s weekly “Belichick Breakdown” segment, posted to Patriots.com.
“This is an excellent play by Harmon in the middle of the field,” Belichick told Scott Zolak. “As he starts to the middle, you’ll see as the ball’s released, (Steelers quarterback Ben) Roethlisberger is letting go of the ball, Duron’s still inside the hashmarks when the ball’s in the air.
“His range to be able to get over the top of this is really outstanding. To have one guy back here, whether that’s Harmon or McCourty, to be able to have that range from sideline to sideline is very valuable for the defense.”
Check out the play, via NFL Game Center:
Harmon played the majority of the matchup back deep at free safety, which gave the Patriots the option to either play McCourty next to him in a Cover-2 or closer to the line of scrimmage. Harmon primarily played in passing downs in a reserve role last season, though he started against the Steelers.
“You can see Duron’s very disciplined on this,” Belichick continued. “Works back to the middle of the field. As Roethlisberger tilts his shoulder there, he takes a good angle on the deep ball and really gets over the top there. I thought that was a big interception for us.”
Check out the play from a different angle:
Harmon wasn’t surprised to see Roethlisberger target Darrius Heyward-Bey deep with 7:09 left in the fourth quarter because he had seen the Steelers run the exact same play earlier in the game.
“Just reading the quarterback, man,” Harmon said about the pick. “It was a play I had previously seen in the game, three by one, that Z receiver on a go. I had a good beat on it, and I know they like to take shots in the middle of the field, so just had a good beat on it, reading the quarterback, his eyes took me there the whole way, then got over there, got to get over there, stay in bounds.”
As you can see, with 4:03 remaining in the first quarter, facing third and 18, the Steelers ran the same play with slightly different personnel. Roethlisberger completed a 17-yard pass to tight end Heath Miller, who was lined up in the slot, ignoring Heyward-Bey, who was sprinting down the field with cornerback Bradley Fletcher in coverage.
Harmon also showed off his impressive range at free safety in January when he sealed the Patriots’ divisional-round playoff win over the Baltimore Ravens with an interception.
“(It was) similar to the play against the Ravens last year in the playoffs,” Belichick said. “Here’s kind of the same play. … We’re cheated over a little bit in this case, not quite to the middle, but a similar type of range play. Good job going up, playing the ball at the high point. That over-the-top coverage that our safeties have given us last year, and even in the Pittsburgh game, it’s been great.”
Here’s Harmon’s key playoff interception:
Harmon’s ability at free safety gives the Patriots’ defense even more versatility. Belichick’s trust in Harmon could allow McCourty to man-up on opposing tight ends. It also allows Patrick Chung to play a hybrid-linebacker role.
The Patriots’ cornerback corps took a hit this offseason when Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner departed in free agency, but having two intelligent free safeties with impressive range can mask plenty of issues in the defensive backfield.
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Sep 10, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots celebrate an interception by strong safety Duron Harmon (30) during the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports