By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The 2019 edition of the Patriots offense won’t beat you much with precision, route-running, and big plays beyond Julian Edelman. But they may have proved last Saturday that they can beat you by getting physical.
That appears to be the shape that the Patriots’ offensive identity is taking after an impressive performance against one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses. And a key cog in the emergence of the bully Patriots has been rookie wide receiver N’Keal Harry.
Now that it’s Week 17 and he’s still catching up after missing half the season, Harry’s best chance at helping the offense is to use his 6-foot-4 frame to his advantage. Plenty of NFL receivers have the size and strength to stuff cornerbacks in lockers, maybe a couple wedgies. But not everyone brings the physical edge to actually do it.
Thankfully, Harry has brought it. Emblematic of this was his dustup with Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White last Saturday, which happened after a run-block. Harry has been used as a blocker in a lot of running situations, and he’s more than happy to steal some corners’ lunch money without getting the ball.
“I gotta bring a lot of intensity to that side of the game, especially because I’m such a big receiver, so I’ve got to use that to my advantage,” Harry said on Friday. Harry took the field for 11 running plays in Saturday’s win over the Bills and was arguably their most effective blocker at the receiver position.
He also got four touches for 39 yards, including 18 of them between a jet sweep and reverse. That’s where Harry showcased his ability to break tackles and demonstrated the difficulty of bringing him down without multiple tacklers, which is quickly becoming a trademark of his.
The coaches like what they see so far in those departments.
“It’s definitely something we saw when he was in college, a strength we liked about him,” said receivers coach Joe Judge. “He plays with a good aggressiveness, he plays to his size, which is key. You can’t have a big guy try to play small, and he’s played up to how big he is.”
“We felt like he could run with the ball,” said Bill Belichick in his Friday presser. “I wouldn’t say we drafted him – I don’t think you draft a receiver to run [jet sweeps], but if there are things that the receiver can do that are productive when you get him the ball, then consider him.”
The Patriots offense has struggled to find something it can do well consistently throughout the 2019 season. But the win over the Bills – and it can’t be stressed enough that they have one of the league’s toughest defenses – may have been the road for them to take. They have a receiver in Harry emerging for them as a big, physical presence in a variety of ways.
If they’re going to keep bullying people, Harry might have to be the ringleader. The one in the denim jacket who’s flicking the glasses off the nerds’ faces for absolutely no reason. Well he’d have good reason to push people around with his size on the football field.
Physicality looks like the Patriots’ offensive identity moving forward. Harry may end up at the center of it.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.