Four days ahead of Thanksgiving, Damon Harrison was feasting in the middle of the Jets' run defense at Houston. He had a sneaking suspicion early on of how his game was going.
"Midway through the second quarter and going in at halftime, I noticed I was in on quite a few tackles," Harrison told me Wednesday. "I wasn't really keeping tabs, but when I saw it after the game, I wasn't surprised."
What "Snacks" saw was his name and the number 12 at the top of the defense's tackle column. The dozen stops were the most of his four-year Jets career and the first time he had led the defense in tackles for a game. And most of his takedowns were on the Texans' rushes up the middle, which didn't average even 2.0 yards a pop.
"They had some pretty good outside runs, but for the most part we did a pretty good job of controlling the middle," Harrison said. "The coaches harped all week on stopping the run, making sure we were cancelling out the A-gap, and I tried to do that."
The Jets run defense, which has been in the NFL's top three in rush yards allowed/game for the last six weeks, will be crucial in controlling the Dolphins for a second time this season. Miami's 59 rush yards in London marked the start of a big three-game stretch of Green & White run-stopping that hasn't been as strong the last month.
Further, the 'Fins are stressing the run this week. "I would love to establish the run — that's who I am," said interim head coach Dan Campbell without revealing any game plan secrets.
They're also running well, as their No. 4 ranking in yards/attempt indicate. And they've got a lot of bells and whistles in moving the ball overland, with starter Lamar Miller (5.0 yards/carry), second-year man Damien Williams (4.2 on 11 carries), rookie Jay Ajayi (6.8 on 15), and even WR Jarvis Landry, who runs the end-around once or twice a game to the tune of 6.8/carry.
"It's a challenge every week," said Harrison. "We've done a pretty good job for the most part throughout the year stopping the run, but we've been giving up some explosive runs the past few weeks, which has come back to haunt us. If we can eliminate the explosive runs, we can go back to being that good run defense."
Harrison has been getting more snaps than ever at nose, career highs of 52 defensive plays both against the Bills and the Texans, which is OK with him.
"I welcome the opportunity to get more snaps, and I welcome the opportunity to get more sacks," he said. "I only have a half-sack on the season, but I'm more disruptive in the passing game than I've ever been. I've come close to a lot of sacks this year that I didn't have the opportunity to finish, but hopefully that'll come sooner rather than later."
But Snacks knows the football calculus well: If you don't stop the run Sunday, you won't get as many tries at taking down Ryan Tannehill.