Against an offensive line decimated by injuries, this past Sunday was supposed to be Derrick Harvey's coming-out party.
With the Seattle Seahawks missing both starting tackles and their starting left guard, Harvey was considered a sure bet to notch his first sack of the season. In light of the picks the Jacksonville Jaguars spent to acquire him in the 2008 draft, anything less than a prominent stat line—in the eyes of the Jacksonville media—would be unacceptable.
Sunday's game came and went, with Harvey notching five tackles, four hurries, and one pass defensed. Returning home without a sack, the negative fan reaction was predictable.
Meanwhile, for anyone who cared to watch, the Jaguars' much-maligned second-year pass rusher had the best day of his young career.
Harvey opened the game with a ho-hum effort on the Seahawks' first drive. Stuck in pursuit on runs and zone coverage on passes, he made little noise as Seattle broke into Jacksonville territory before punting the ball away.
On the second play of the next series, though, he awakened the Seahawks rudely to their danger.
Left tackle Brandon Frye, making his second start in place of injured veteran Walter Jones, charged at Harvey to lead the way for running back Julius Jones. He punched out to push Jacksonville's end away—and all 6'5" and 281 pounds of Harvey hunkered down.
Crunched, Frye dropped to the ground. Jones gained six yards on the run before a second-level defender could bring him down, but Harvey's counterpunch sent Frye to the sideline.
Recently, Seattle announced that the neck and shoulder injuries Frye suffered on that play will end his season.
Not content with merely beating his blocker up, Harvey shoved backup tackle Kyle Williams aside on the next snap and tackled Jones himself near the line of scrimmage. Three plays later, he jumped and extended in shallow zone coverage to knock down a high pass by quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
During the drive, Harvey lined up at outside linebacker, right end, and defensive tackle in the Jaguars' different looks, funneling runs in from the outside and putting heat on Hasselbeck up the middle.
The next time the Seahawks' offense took the field, they double-teamed Harvey on two of their five plays. He responded by splitting his blockers both times, forcing Hasselbeck into a panicked incompletion on 3rd-and-1 after breaking through between the tackle and guard.
Throughout the game, Harvey had his way with whichever Seahawks he lined up against. He dug his heels in on runs to his side for two more of his tackles and penetrated consistently as a pass rusher—including a nasty inside swim move late in the second quarter—even as Jacksonville fell further behind on the scoreboard.
For the first time this year, an opposing quarterback had to think during his pre-snap read: "Where's 91?" Hasselbeck rolled out away from Harvey on several plays, throwing from the side of the pocket that wasn't quickly collapsing, and shied away from tight end John Carlson when Harvey drew him in one-on-one coverage.
In spite of Harvey's best efforts, though, Seattle moved the ball at will against the Jaguars' defense and kept Hasselbeck upright for most of the afternoon.
This week, Harvey has been criticized for failing to produce on par with his draft position. When the Jaguars traded up to the eighth overall pick in 2008 in search of a premier pass rusher, they certainly didn't envision him failing to register a sack against a third-string left tackle.
Even the NFL's best sack artists aren't expected to generate pressure alone, though. Minnesota's Jared Allen gets help from the Vikings' interior linemen, Pittsburgh's James Harrison is complemented by fellow linebacker LaMarr Woodley, and Indianapolis' Dwight Freeney benefits from playing opposite Robert Mathis, to name a few.
On Sunday, Harvey's teammates provided little disincentive for the Seahawks to scheme heavily against him.
Jacksonville's defense, in transitioning to new coordinator Mel Tucker's 3-4 scheme, employs down linemen who are responsible for hitting gaps in the offensive line to get penetration and draw blockers in. Even on Derek Landri's sack, that group did little against Seattle to keep Hasselbeck from stepping up into the pocket to throw.
Linebacker Clint Ingram, a capable blitzer, was playing on an injured ankle Sunday. After notching a sack two weeks ago at Houston, he couldn't get upfield quickly enough to punish Hasselbeck for rolling out to the right.
The most damning evidence against Harvey's supporting cast, though, comes from film of Nate Burleson's 44-yard touchdown catch-and-run.
With Seattle devoting three blockers to Harvey, a gap was left for linebacker Brian Iwuh to hit home on the blitz—until Hasselbeck spotted Burleson wide open underneath the Jaguars' secondary for the easy completion.
On that play, Pro Bowl corner Rashean Mathis was the guilty party. Rookie Derek Cox, though, has been a repeat offender in Jacksonville's secondary, inflating his total tackles (23 solo through five games) by giving huge cushions to opposing receivers.
Facing linemen who need only ride him wide of the pocket and quarterbacks who can roll out away and hit quick short passes, Harvey's hurries are as close as he's likely to get to a sack.
There's plenty of blame to go around after the Seahawks' 41-0 shellacking of the Jaguars. Harvey, for his part, could stand to refine his inside pass-rush moves, because he'll need them to do damage against starting-caliber tackles.
But too much has been made of his failure to record a sack against Seattle's banged-up line, especially after a dominating performance that left them worse for the wear.
Thankfully, Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio seemed to recognize Harvey's effort. Trailing 34-0 after three quarters, he pulled three key starters to avoid fluke injuries: quarterback David Garrard, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, and Harvey.
After his performance this past Sunday, Harvey should be considered on his way to becoming that caliber of player.
[Photo courtesy of Jaguars.com's gallery.]