One bright spot from Sunday’s loss to the Buffalo Bills was the play of Damien Harris, who continues to impress as the New England Patriots’ new No. 1 running back.
Harris reached the 100-yard mark for the second time in four games, recording a career-high 102 on 16 carries in New England’s 24-21 defeat at Bills Stadium. He also ran through an open-field tackle attempt by safety Dean Marlowe to score his first NFL touchdown, a 22-yarder.
That ability to create yards on his own has impressed Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who raved about Harris during a Tuesday morning video conference.
“Damien’s well-prepared,” McDaniels said. “Damien runs hard. He’s physical. He’s aggressive. Damien’s the kind of guy that there may or may not be a hole, but he’s going to make one. And when he gets into the defense like he did on Sunday, you’ve got a chance to maybe break a tackle or make somebody miss and create a bigger play.
“So I’m very pleased with what Damien’s done. I like the way he plays, like his run style. I think he gives us an opportunity to create some chunk plays with the way that he attacks the line of scrimmage and addresses linebackers and safeties at the second level.”
McDaniels also saw some “encouraging” moments from Harris in pass protection against a Bills team that frequently blitzed.
“Young players, that’s one of the areas where, when you come into the league, you don’t necessarily have great exposure or experience at handling blitzes and seeing all the different things that are thrown at you in the National Football League,” McDaniels said, “and Damien was able to pick up a couple secondary pressures on Sunday.”
Harris hardly played as a rookie last season, and a late-summer hand injury following an excellent 2020 training camp delayed his breakout. Activated off injured reserve in Week 4 — a move that coincided with Sony Michel’s move to IR — he immediately rushed for 100 yards on 17 carries in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Michel’s absence has not slowed New England’s potent rushing attack, which ranks third in yards per game, fourth in yards per carry and fifth in DVOA through eight weeks. Harris, who continues to split time with Rex Burkhead and James White in New England’s backfield rotation, has averaged at least 5.8 yards per rush in three of his four appearances, living up to the potential he displayed in camp.
Among the 31 players with at least 40 rushing attempts since Week 4, Harris ranks second in yards per carry (5.69) behind last year’s rushing champ, Derrick Henry (5.77).
Though Michel is eligible to return to the active roster and could be back in the mix as early as this week, he’ll have a hard time unseating Harris to reclaim his lead-back role.
“(Harris is) certainly a young guy that’s really taking advantage of his opportunities and making the most of it,” McDaniels said.