Hand-in-Hand: NFC Player of Week Harris Points to Pass Rush on 2 INTs

EAGAN, Minn. — After picking off a pair of passes on Sunday, Anthony Harris has picked up NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors, the NFL and Vikings announced Wednesday.

Harris showed savvy and strength on his first interception, nabbing the first pass of the day that was intended for Falcons receiver Julio Jones. On the second, he was smooth in showing some hops and toe drag swag in the end zone.

Harris, who also recovered a fumble forced by Trae Waynes, received credit from Head Coach Mike Zimmer for both of the interceptions being “really, really good plays.”

“The second one in the end zone, [Danielle] Hunter did a really nice job of putting pressure on [Matt] Ryan, and Ben [Gedeon] did a good job of covering the guy coming out in the flat,” Zimmer said Monday after watching the film from the previous day. “I don’t know if [Ryan] was trying to throw it to the tight end or trying to throw it away, but Anthony made a great play on that.

“On the other one, he was actually in man-to-man on a guy, and his guy blocked and he sunk back and he really out-muscled Julio for the ball,” Zimmer added.

Here’s a little more on each interception:

Q1, 10:02 remaining — First-and-10 at the Atlanta 28

The Vikings cap the defensive line with defensive end Danielle Hunter on the left and linebacker Anthony Barr on the right in two-point stances. Barr is outside of defensive end Everson Griffen, similar to where he was when he recorded a sack on the first snap of the game.

Harris has man coverage on Falcons tight end Austin Hooper, who is at the right of the formation.

After the snap, Hooper moves to his left, behind the offensive line to go block Barr. Hunter zips past rookie right tackle Kaleb McGary to put heat on quarterback Matt Ryan. When Harris sees Hooper blocking on the play, he tracks Ryan visually and backpedals from the 32-yard line to the 39.

Ryan is leaning backward as he throws a high one toward Jones, who was being covered by Xavier Rhodes while running an inside-breaking route.

Harris high points the ball against a player who is great at coming down with footballs in traffic.

“I was trying to cover my guy and keep my eyes on the tight end,” Harris explained. “I saw him slashing across the formation, and he was blocking, so I just tried to free up and help out where I could and fell into an interception.”

Q3, 3:14 remaining — Second-and-goal from the Minnesota 3

The Falcons have their best drive of the game so far, but they just had a loss of 1 on a run play in a jumbo package. Atlanta again uses tackle Ty Sambrailo as an extra lineman, along with two tight ends, a fullback and a running back, and use play-action to fake a run to the left before throwing to the right.

Side note: this also means that the Vikings don’t have to contend with Jones, Calvin Ridley or Mohamed Sanu, who combined for 22 receiving touchdowns in 2018, on the play.

Hunter is undeterred by Hooper and gets moving toward Ryan quickly as Gedeon covers Hooper.

Harris jams tight end Luke Stocker near the goal line, slowing him down, and sees Ryan trying to throw the ball away, but Ryan again heaves it off his back foot and doesn’t have enough juice to get it out of bounds before Harris can go up and get it.

“The second one was executing my assignment, having good eyes, being in the right spot, seeing the ball in the air and trying to go make a play,” Harris said.

He credited the Vikings pass rush for his fourth and fifth career interceptions and second game in as many seasons with two picks.

“We talk about it going hand-in-hand, coverage and pass rush, so you get an interception, the person that catches the ball usually gets a little bit of credit, but if you go back and look at the tape, you see those guys in front pressuring the quarterback and forcing him to throw off his back foot,” Harris said. “I tip my hat to those guys.”

The performance in the first Week 1 start of Harris’ five-year career continued an impressive streak that the Vikings have of four consecutive season openers in which a player has claimed a conference Player of the Week award.

Eric Kendricks (at Tennessee in 2016), Harrison Smith (against San Francisco in 2018) and Sam Bradford (against New Orleans in 2017) garnered the previous honors.

Harris has climbed from being an undrafted rookie in 2015 to working his way up from the practice squad that season to being the starter paired with Smith to open 2019. Teammates who have seen Harris’ rise are elated that his hard work is paying off.

“Anthony Harris gets me emotional, honestly. I have seen him go through a lot,” Kendricks said. “I have seen him start at the bottom, legitimately. All he did was work. All he did was battle. He is a humble guy, and he knows his role on the team. It is no question why we see him have success. It is why he is in the place he is in. He is in the right spot. He is catching these balls, and he works for that.”

The Vikings have seven different current starters on defense who have won at least one NFC Defensive Player of the Week award under Zimmer, a run of success that began with Barr in 2014, the debut season for both the coach and linebacker.

Linval Joseph and Griffen claimed the honor in 2015, along with former cornerback Terence Newman. After Kendricks opened 2016 by returning an interception 77 yards for a score, Griffen again was tabbed two weeks later after recording 3.0 sacks at Carolina.

Rhodes joined the club that November after picking a pair — and returning one 100 yards for a touchdown — against Arizona.

Smith nabbed two interceptions at Green Bay in December 2017 when Minnesota recorded its first shutout at Lambeau Field and reclaimed the honor after recording eight tackles, a sack and an interception against San Francisco.

Hunter added his name to the group against Detroit last November when he recorded nine tackles and 3.5 sacks and returned a fumble 32 yards for a touchdown.

Now it’s back to work for the Vikings defense with the 118th Border Battle scheduled for Sunday.

“It’s good to have games like that and go reflect and talk about how you can get to doing that consistently,” Harris said. “I’ve been trying to just stack the performances, just build off it game after game, try to take each day and really focus on something to get better at, so I look back at the performance, I put in the work, and it turned out pretty well for me, so now I’m just excited to move on to the next week and try to do it again.”

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