The Denver Broncos are headed to the Super Bowl, despite a fourth quarter comeback by the New England Patriots. Denver’s defense halted the Patriots on a fourth down attempt in the red zone thanks to the awareness of Chris Harris. Daniel Syed breaks down the game saving play by the All-Pro cornerback.
With 6:03 left in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game, the New England Patriots faced 4th and 1 at the Denver 16-yard line. New England had a well-designed play called, but the awareness of cornerback Chris Harris Jr. led to a huge stop for the Denver defense. Without Harris’ ability to recognize the play and react away from his original responsibility, Julian Edelman gains the first down easily and likely would have scored.
Before the snap, Denver crowds the line of scrimmage and has several defenders over the center, anticipating a quarterback sneak. The Broncos call a heavy blitz scheme and play Cover 0 behind it. The Patriots run a play-action pass, with Edelman (#11) coming underneath the formation from the right to the left flat, Danny Amendola (#80) running a crossing route, and Keshawn Martin (#82) running a fade route. Edelman goes in motion before the snap to confirm man-to-man coverage from Aqib Talib (#21). The goal of the play is to clear out defensive backs to open up Edelman while causing traffic for Talib:
The Patriots have a great look pre-snap, since it will be difficult for Talib to follow Edelman’s underneath path all the way across the field. Post-snap, however, Harris Jr. (#25) sees Edelman coming back underneath the formation and reacts. He abandons his initial man-to-man responsibility on Amendola and steps up to make a great play on Edelman, stopping him short of the first-down marker. Harris’ awareness is also aided by DeMarcus Ware’s (#94) immediate pressure on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (#12), which forced an early throw:
The Patriots could have designed this play slightly differently by sending Amendola up the seam, on a wheel route, or over the middle on a deep cross to turn Harris’ hips away from Edelman coming underneath. The Patriots also could have sent the play action wider to the right to give Brady an extra half second, likely forcing Harris to continue with Amendola.
However, the main takeaway from the play is Harris’ instincts and awareness took away a potential touchdown. Not many cornerbacks have the field vision to see an underneath receiver, redirect, and make a tackle all while being responsible for another receiver in man coverage.
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Daniel Syed is a lawyer and coach, who enjoys breaking down X’s and O’s. He has written about passing concepts for the ITP Glossary, Hail Mary attempts, and making adjustments at the line.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.