For Jacksonville's Derrick Harvey, Sunday's game at Houston was the first regular day he's had on the job in some time.
Amidst a six-man rotation on the Jaguars' defensive line, Harvey played most snaps bulling forward from left end, both in three-man fronts and goal-line situations. The Jaguars moved their defensive front around for different blitz packages, but Harvey spent most of the game containing plays on his side, whether lined up over the guard or outside the tackle.
Harvey's performance in the first three quarters was pedestrian—a marked improvement over his erratic, risk-taking containment job a week ago against Arizona.
In the game's fourth frame, though, he gave Jaguars fans two more glimpses of what defensive line coach Ted Monachino has described as his "ability to take over periods."
The first came on third down on the Texans' first drive of the quarter, after Jacksonville had taken a 31-24 lead. Houston took the field having answered each of the Jaguars' previous scores in a see-saw contest through 45 minutes of play, and an 11-yard pass from Matt Schaub to Kevin Walter on the drive's first snap suggested they were ready to fire back again.
After a sack by Montavious Stanley on first down, Harvey nearly deflected Schaub's second-down pass to Jacoby Jones in the flat.
On the next play, with the Texans needing 17 yards for a first down, Harvey lined up outside Houston tackle Eric Winston on the next play and pinned his ears back, breaking through the line with an inside move between Winston and guard Mike Brisiel.
Last week, Harvey hesitated on his only clear shot at Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, whiffing on the sack when Warner stepped up in the pocket.
This time, he went straight at Schaub. As the Texans' quarterback checked down and attempted to unload the ball to tight end Owen Daniels, Harvey rose up and slapped the pass away.
On Houston's next drive, with a more-manageable three yards to go on third down, Jacksonville defensive coordinator Mel Tucker called for a twist. At the snap, Harvey shot out at Winston before cutting back behind nose tackle Attiyah Ellison.
Texans center Chris Myers could only chip Harvey as he charged past, rushing toward Schaub. But Brisiel, the guard who had been too slow against Harvey's inside move, reached out and slung his left arm against Harvey's midsection. Grabbing on after Myers' nudge, Brisiel made the kind of block that referees sometimes miss in the middle of the line.
The cheap combo block bought Schaub a second to scramble away before being tripped up by blitzing linebacker Clint Ingram—and robbed Harvey of his first sack of the season.
A sack might've appeased Harvey's critics among Jacksonville's fans and the media, whose judgments are so often based on the box score. But his play in the fourth quarter was close to what the Jaguars expected when they drafted him in 2008.
If Tucker continues to find ways to line Harvey up outside the tackle and use his short-area speed, the sacks will come.