All-22: New Eagles Safety Showcases Toughness, Instincts
The Eagles remained casual observers during the first wave of free agency, relegated to the sidelines while their competition went on spending sprees to add key components.
Losing a versatile clubhouse leader in Jalen Mills and an impactful special teams demon in Rudy Ford was not only difficult to stomach from an on-field perspective, but also left the safety depth in dire straits.
Perhaps the team views Avonte Maddox as a viable option in the mold of a position-less defensive back, or maybe they envision a certain draft prospect filling the long-term void. Second-year pro K’Von Wallace is set to embark on his first full offseason, so there’s always an outside chance he makes a significant leap.
While all that might be true, the need for another veteran presence was glaringly evident.
The cash-strapped Eagles managed to address a crucial need Saturday, inking seventh-year safety Anthony Harris to a 1-year, $5 million deal.
Considering Harris is just one season removed from sharing the NFL’s interception title and that he played all 16 games – including 100 percent of defensive snaps and 99 percent of special teams – this has the makings of a tremendous value signing.
In Philadelphia, Harris will align opposite Rodney McLeod, giving the team a savvy 1-2 combo patrolling the middle of the field. The addition of Smith should adequately complement McLeod and Slay in giving first-year defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon a veteran nucleus to help implement his technique and scheme.
An undrafted free agent in 2015, Harris has appeared in 81 games (47 starts), registering 284 tackles, nine interceptions, and 28 pass breakups.
In order to get a concise overview of what Harris provides, I reviewed three games from last season. Sure, the tape was missing the flashy ball production and playmaking ability of 2019, but there were several contributing factors to Minnesota’s back-end woes. Upon further review, the 29-year-old Harris remains a fundamentally sound, instinctive, sharp-minded football player who should thrive under Gannon’s tutelage.
With that, let’s check out Harris’ All-22 tape.
Though often touted for his coverage prowess, Harris brings a multi-faceted skill set to the Eagles. Here's an example of Harris coming down from deep safety to make an open-field tackle in the gap.
Just as Panthers running back Mike Davis (5-9, 220) finds daylight and accelerates full-steam ahead, he’s met abruptly by Harris, who stands him up before a brigade of Vikings’ swarm. This next play further accents Harris’ closing speed and tenacity. He makes the correct read, watches the run develop and demonstrates exceptional anticipation, shooting the gap behind wide receiver Curtis Samuel and limiting Davis to a 1-yard pickup.
On the next clip, Harris showcases his ability to read, react and play through the whistle, urgently shooting the gap untouched and dropping Jags running James Robinson for a 1-yard loss.
Harris appeared to force a fumble, but after a closer look, Jacksonville retained possession.
Now let's take a look at some of examples of his coverage. The Vikings employ a good amount of Cover 2, with Harris asked to cover his deep half of the field. In this clip from overtime, Harris displays his coverage chops and closing speed. Isolated in coverage against tight end James O’Shaughnessy, Harris drives on the football and breaks up a short toss from Mike Glennon.
Watch from the field angle to catch a closer look at Harris closing ground for the breakup:
Harris has also demonstrated poor awareness in coverage, such as the next clip, when he loses sight of Lions wideout Marvin Jones. Stafford capitalizes on the mismatch and delivers a perfectly thrown 43-yard strike for a touchdown.
The objective of Cover 2 is to keep the ball in front. But Jones, an excellent route-runner, caught Harris turned in the wrong direction around the 20-yard-line, and cut to the corner to separate for the bomb.
An underrated facet of Harris’ game is competitive toughness and savvy. In the same game, Lions wide receiver Mohamed Sanu got behind the Minnesota secondary and appeared to reel in another deep shot from Stafford. Take a look:
Harris first played the deep cross, as Stafford scrambled outside the pocket and aimed for Sanu, who had his corner beat. Harris recovered in time to get over to Sanu. The field angle tells the whole story:
Harris wrestled the ball away from Sanu to prevent a touchdown, his first of two pass breakups in the game. The drive stalled and the Lions were forced to punt. The Eagles are getting a smart, instinctive, tough safety to shore up their secondary.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.