Where's 91? Week 6: Derrick Harvey's Role Expanding in Jaguars' Defense
The answer to this column's central question—"Where's 91?"—gets more complicated every week.
Jacksonville's coaches tried Derrick Harvey out at outside linebacker and defensive end in the Jaguars' first few games this year before deciding to use him in both roles. Further into the season, his responsibilities as an outside linebacker were becoming distinct from his duties as a down lineman.
Standing up, he'd rush the outside edge or drop into short zone coverage. With his hand on the ground, he'd bull forward into the pocket or the running back. The trick was to see where Jacksonville would use Harvey in a given situation.
Then, this past Sunday, the Jaguars showed that his function through five weeks had only been the tip of the iceberg.
He lined up in the same spots, playing on the line for one-fourth of his snaps and as a linebacker the rest of the time. From there, though, Jacksonville sent Harvey all over the field.
Coming off a game in which he had excelled against the Seattle Seahawks' interior linemen, the Jaguars expanded their use of two-man fronts. Pairing Harvey with rookie nose tackle Terrance Knighton in the middle in obvious passing situations and on most third downs, Jacksonville forced St. Louis' offense into six drives of four plays or less.
On one second-quarter play, the Jaguars dropped Harvey from tackle into underneath coverage on a zone blitz. With Jacksonville's safeties straying wide, Rams running back Steven Jackson leaked out and made a catch over the middle before Harvey took him down in pursuit.
Had Jackson not flashed open, the Jaguars might have notched a sack. Going forward, Harvey's ability to separate and cover should make for more opportunities to blitz quick second-level defenders inside.
From outside linebacker, his coverage responsibilities expanded from run-of-the-mill short zones as St. Louis took to the air. The Rams tested Jacksonville's 30th-ranked pass defense early and often, throwing on two-thirds of their snaps and just under half of their plays on first down.
Unwilling to commit to the pass on 1st-and-10 and in short-yardage situations, the Jaguars responded by locking Harvey onto Bulger in spy coverage. Performing a task normally reserved for true linebackers, he dropped back to read and react to St. Louis' quarterback and the flow of the Rams' receivers.
With his back turned to most of the action, Harvey's results were mixed.
Fixed on Bulger, he made two big plays. On the game's first drive, St. Louis looked to convert a 2nd-and-2 with a quick slant route to receiver Keenan Burton. At the snap, Harvey checked for a run before cutting between Bulger and his target, buying time for Jacksonville's only sack of the day.
Later, with the Rams driving for what would be a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation, Harvey read an underneath throw to tight end Randy McMichael in the red zone and closed. By bringing McMichael down in-bounds, nine yards from the end zone, with 15 seconds left, he kept St. Louis' offensive options limited.
More often than not, though, Harvey's coverage role hurt the Jaguars' pass rush more than he helped against the Rams' passing attack. Short passes still gashed Jacksonville for significant yardage, including six to Jackson for 78 yards.
As a pass rusher, Harvey found St. Louis left tackle Alex Barron less vincible than Seattle's backups.
His bull rush worked, against Barron's lean 6'7", 300-pound frame, to collapse Bulger's pocket on several occasions—including an impressive effort that forced an underthrow for Rashean Mathis' first-quarter interception . But Barron proved difficult to beat around the edge, nudging Harvey past the pocket repeatedly throughout the game.
Harvey continues to beat blockers when anchoring against the run, as evidenced on his impressive first-quarter stop of Steven Jackson for no gain. On the day, the Rams managed only 15 yards on five carries in his direction, nine of which came on one play.
But he has yet to show a good-enough inside move to keep athletic tackles like Barron from squaring up to him on the edge and forcing him wide.
The Jaguars' defense is the league's worst at getting to the quarterback, having managed only five sacks through six games. Harvey has filled his diverse role admirably, in coverage and beating blockers on the line, but opposing passers must go down for Jacksonville to improve in pass defense.
With a decent rip or swim move, he'd be able to do that from any position, too.
[Photo courtesy of Jaguars.com's gallery.]
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