Damien Harris has reached the 100-yard mark in three of the New England Patriots’ last six games.
Don’t be surprised if a fourth comes this Sunday.
On paper, this week’s matchup against the Houston Texans looks like a golden opportunity for Harris, who’s thrived since replacing an injured Sony Michel as New England’s lead back.
No NFL team has struggled more against the run this season than the Texans have. Houston’s defense ranks dead last in rushing yards allowed per game (167.8), dead last in yards allowed per carry (5.12) and dead last in run defense DVOA, a Football Outsiders metric that measures a unit’s overall efficiency.
The Texans have faced four of the top six rushing offenses this season. They allowed 230 rushing yards to the Baltimore Ravens (second) in Week 2, 162 to the Minnesota Vikings (fifth) in Week 4, 263 to the Tennessee Titans (sixth) in Week 6 and 231 to the Cleveland Browns (fourth) last Sunday.
The Patriots rank third, averaging 161.0 yards per game. Their 4.82 yards-per-carry average ranks seventh. In rush offense DVOA, they’re second behind the Los Angeles Rams.
That, folks, is a mismatch.
Leading that charge lately has been Harris, who’s wowed with his burst, vision and pure power. The 2019 third-round draft pick is averaging 5.5 yards per carry since his Week 4 debut, tied for third-best among qualified running backs this season behind Nick Chubb and Miles Sanders.
In Sunday’s upset win over the Ravens, Harris carried 22 times for a career-high 121 yards, including five runs of 12-plus yards.
“Every time I touch the ball, I’m running to score,” Harris said Thursday in a video conference. “I know that I’m going to get hit, and I know that there’s going to be people trying to tackle me, and I know that my job is to not get tackled.
“So I just do everything I can, working on running through tackles running through arm tackles, working on just keeping my legs moving and just running with that downhill mentality that I’m not going to let anybody take me down.”
Harris has been excellent — and, in our opinion, should not lose touches to Michel once the latter is activated off injured reserve — but a large share of the credit for his breakout goes to the Patriots’ offensive line.
That group has mauled opponents for much of this season, ranking third in the NFL in adjusted line yards and first in stuffed rate (percentage of runs resulting in a loss of yardage or no gain), according to Football Outsiders.
“I’ll be honest, when you have an offensive line that’s as impressive and as great as ours is, you kind of stop getting surprised,” Harris said. “Because, I mean, those guys just do such a great job and they work their tails off day in and day out at practice. …
“We’re not surprised whenever they open up big running lanes, and we’re not surprised when we have success running the football, because that’s what we’re good at.”
Quarterback Cam Newton also is tied for third among all NFL players in rushing touchdowns this season with nine, and Rex Burkhead has been a productive dual-threat back of late, averaging 4.8 yards per carry and scoring three total touchdowns (one rushing, two receiving) during New England’s current two-game win streak.