There is no question about it- Michael Harris was terrible last season. Really, really terrible. He was the worst rated tackle last season, according to Pro Football Focus. He was the worst rated offensive lineman. He was the worst rated player at any position on offense or defense last season.
In all fairness, it wasn't his fault. Last season, Harris was an undrafted free agent rookie forced to play a significant amount due to injuries and Jared Gaither-ness. It was a formula for failure, especially when combined with Philip Rivers having to do 7 step drops so often.
Injuries have come around to put him back in the game again, but now he's had a season of learning under his belt. He has also been coached by Joe D'Alessandris, who has been performing miracles with the other offensive linemen so far. Still, every Chargers fan experienced a sickening feeling in their stomach when it became clear that Harris would be starting at left tackle against the formidable Cowboys front seven. How did he do? Let's take a look.
- The Chargers first drive resulted in a three-and-out, with Harris matched up against DeMarcus Ware all three plays. The second play he was pushed back, but kept feet under him and didn't allow Ware to get around him, giving Rivers enough time to complete a pass to Keenan Allen. Otherwise he handled Ware fine. A solid start for Harris.
- On the first play of the Chargers second drive is a Ryan Mathews run. Harris goes to the second level and pushes LB Bruce Carter back about 5 yards. If Mathews has made it to the second level, Harris had cleared out a good path for him.
- After Harris handles Carter again on the second level for a Le'Ron McClain run, the Cowboys send 5 on a blitz. Harris handles Ware perfectly, and Rivers has plenty of time to find Keenan Allen downfield for 31 yards. On a side note, look at this defensive alignment. They were daring Rivers to throw deep to the left.
- Harris continues to handle Ware admirably. Rivers not being asked to do 7-step drops and improvise in the pocket is certainly helping, but other than the one play where Harris was pushed back a bit, Ware has had no success against Harris so far. Harris has had good footwork and kept low and balanced, giving him good leverage against Ware.
- The Chargers open up the next drive with four runs. Harris blocks admirably on all of the plays, keeping his assignment away from the runner.
- The next play Harris is asked to pull to the right side. It is a long way to go for a tackle, and he trips a little bit before the short pass to Antonio Gates on the left side.
- Harris makes his first mistake on the final play of the third drive. LB Kyle Wilber and DT Nick Hayden will perform a stunt. Harris passes Wilber off to Johnnie Troutman just fine, but then fails to pick up Hayden, who forces Rivers to throw the ball away.
- Harris continues to do very well against Ware with no help whatsoever, keeping him out of passing and running plays to start the Chargers fourth drive of the game.
- Harris again is asked to pull to the right, and again it doesn't go so well for him. This is clearly not his strong suit at this time.
- On the final play of the drive, Harris tries to get Bruce Carter, and Carter neatly sidesteps him while Harris fall flat on his face.
- On a 2nd and 5 Mathews run on the next drive, Harris completely whiffs trying to block LB Sean Lee. Lee misses a diving tackle at Mathews, but Mathews has to slow down and is unable to avoid Bruce Carter.
- Rivers is moving around the pocket so much better than last season, which is really helping the offensive linemen.
- Harris gets beat by Kyle Wilber, but Rivers is in the groove and gets the throw out on time to Danny Woodhead on the first play of the next drive.
- Rivers gets sacked by George Selvie on the the next play, although Harris let's Wilber get behind him and wouldn't have been far behind. To be fair, both Selvie and Wilbur got excellent jumps on the snap. It looked like they had the snap count down on that play.
- On the Sean Lee pick-six, Harris got away with some pretty blatant holding against Ware. It would have been declined if called, I'm surprised that a flag wasn't called.
- Harris is really having trouble handling stunts, he isn't able to reset himself to take over the defender Troutman passes to him.
- Harris starts the second half with continued solid play in one-on-one situations. His footwork has improved incredibly over last season, and he has the strength to keep defenders at bay.
- Harris seemed confused about where he was supposed to go for the screen play on a screen play to Eddie Royal. He correctly let George Selvie through, but then had trouble getting to a defender to block.
- After Ware failed to accomplish much against Harris in the first half, they have moved him primarily to the defensive left to try and test D.J. Fluker. Harris has been primarily facing Selvie and Wilbur this drive. Wilbur seems to be giving Harris the most trouble to this point.
- The second drive sees Ware lining up over Harris again, and Harris is getting aggressive and attacking Ware. The first few plays Harris rushes to engage Ware and pushes Ware around a bit. He is doing well so far, but we'll see if Ware can take advantage at some point.
- Harris does a bit better on a screen to Royal on 2nd and 6. At the snap Harris rushes down the field and redirects J.J. Wilcox enough to let Royal get by. It is hardly a dominating block, but it is better than seen on other screens.
- The last play of the quarter has Harris getting shoved into Danny Woodhead's running lane by DT David Carter. Sean Lee gets the tackle, largely due to Woodhead having to slow to try and go around Harris. Not his best play.
- The Cowboys have realized that Harris and Troutman are having issues handling stunts, and Ware is doing it to the inside almost exclusively now. Harris isn't taking the DT from Troutman, and Troutman can't then take Ware. They pay for it on the first play of the fourth quarter, as Ware gets free inside and nearly gets to Rivers as he is throwing. If Rivers has time to set, it could have been a touchdown to Keenan Allen.
- The Chargers next drive, ending in a long Gates touchdown, continues with Harris essentially making Ware a non-factor in this game. This has been a very encouraging performance by Harris. His footwork is improved, and he pushes Ware back with his hands well.
- The Chargers final drive is made entirely of run plays. All are up the middle or to the right, but Harris is effective keeping Ware from making a play from the backside.
It is difficult to believe that the Michael Harris in this game is the same Michael Harris we watched passively trying to get Philip Rivers killed last season. He took on one of the league's best pass rushers in DeMarcus Ware, and rendered Ware ineffective in the game. According to PFF, Ware had a score of -0.4 for the game, and most of his snaps he was one-on-one against Harris.
Harris does have some areas that he needs to work on. Plays where he needs to run and choose a defender to engage didn't go well, either on screens or pulling to the right. He and Troutman have work to do on better handling stunts. You can be sure opposing defensive coordinators noticed and are planning to try and force some poor play in the future.
When asked to block a lineman or linebacker at the line of scrimmage, Harris was extremely effective, with only a few times that he faltered. All in all, this was a good game from Harris. Dunlap has played better this season, but Harris is proving to be a very competent injury fill-in this season so far.