PHILADELPHIA — The Patriots weren't planning on playing N'Keal Harry 32 snaps in his regular-season debut. That much seemed clear. But when Phillip Dorsett suffered a head injury that knocked him from the game, Harry went from just getting his feet wet in his first regular-season NFL game to being pushed into the deep end.
After playing just seven of 36 offensive snaps through the first half, Harry played 25 of the next 38 as the team's No. 3 wideout. He finished the game with three catches on four targets for 18 total yards.
Here are five takeaways from the rookie first-round pick's debut . . .
BIG-BODIED SLANT: SEEN THAT BEFORE
Harry was used primarily as a blocker early on, executing an effective "crack" block down on defensive end Derek Barnett . But on his fifth snap, he saw his first target.
Aligned wide to the left, he ran a slant while seeing one-on-one coverage. Walling off the defender with his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame, the play went for 11 yards and a first down.
It was the type of play the Patriots ran oftentimes with outside-the-numbers threat Josh Gordon during the 2018 season and the early portion of this season. It's a difficult one to defend against receivers of that ilk because it's hard for corners to fight through their frames.
We noted prior to the 2019 draft that Harry and Gordon's physical profiles were similar. Stephon Gilmore has seen plenty of Harry at Patriots practice since he began working with the team in Week 7. The veteran corner said that even though he has plenty to learn, as far as the physical part of the game goes, Harry is advanced.
"He's got that," Gilmore said. "He's strong. Reps and practice. That's what it takes."
BIG-BODIED SLANT: TEACHING MOMENT
On New England's first drive of the fourth quarter, Harry ran a route almost identical to the one he ran to make his first NFL catch. It came on a second-and-six snap, and once again he aligned wide to the left. Once again he ran a slant.
This time, though, it looked like he might have faded up the field ever so slightly as the ball approached. Instead of charging back to the ball, it took an extra beat to get to him, and as he fought off contact from corner Ronald Darby the pass fell incomplete.
Brady hit Jakobi Meyers on a slant on the next play to keep the drive going, but for Harry, the only incompletion thrown in his direction felt like it might end up a teaching point. There should be plenty of those for Harry after he saw his first live-action reps since August in the preseason opener in Detroit.
"It was great," Harry said of being back on the field for a game. "It was fun to be out there, see what it's like. Got a lot to work on, but excited to move forward."
INSIDE, OUTSIDE, SPECIAL TEAMS
Harry wasn't strictly used as an outside-the-numbers receiver to the left side of the formation, but that's where he played primarily. It's where we saw him play in that preseason opener in Detroit.
But Harry also worked from the slot on both sides of the formation, he was the point man in a bunch formation (the middle receiver in a tightly-packed group of three), and he worked wide to the right a bit as well. He ran slants, hitches, go routes and posts. He also ran one quick-hitting play where Brady found him along the line of scrimmage immediately and he plowed ahead for four yards.
His third catch, meanwhile, came in a scramble-drill type of situation with Brady looking for a bail-out option. Diving to his left, Harry made a short grab for three yards. Though it was a small gain, that type of play might help Tom Brady trust Harry a little more than he did Sunday morning.
Harry — who played multiple snaps on the punt-return team (three, by my count) — also didn't hurt himself by being able to align in multiple positions and playing penalty-free football.
"He appreciates the opportunity that he has," Matthew Slater said. "When you're hurt and you have a chance to kind of reflect and assess your personal situation and the team's situation, it gives you perspective. It makes you appreciate the opportunities you do have to be on the field. I think he feels that way.
"He's thankful to be out there. He's excited to be out there doing whatever he's asked to do. He played in the kicking game out there tonight, did some different things for us offensively."
NFL SCRAMBLE-DRILL SITUATION
There's no doubt Harry had plenty to think about in his first regular-season game, and we can assume the speed of the game will slow down for him eventually, allowing him to react more freely.
But there were a couple of plays where it seemed as though Harry was hesitant to veer from his assigned route in scramble-drill situations. Again, without knowing the team's exact scramble-drill rules, or his particular assignment on a given play, it's difficult to know exactly what he should've done in the two situations that stood out Sunday.
The first came on a third-and-seven in the red zone. Brady scrambled to his right while Harry ran a shallow crosser all the way across the field. Once he got to the sideline, and Brady still had the ball, he stopped. Could he have worked up the field? Back to the line of scrimmage? Hard to say.
Later, on the play where he caught a pass for three yards, he stopped as it looked like Brady might be sacked. He finished the play and obviously had the awareness to keep his eyes on Brady, but scramble-drill situations like those typically result in Patriots receivers scrambling themselves for open space to give Brady a throwing lane.
THE RED ZONE BECKONS?
Harry didn't see much work in the red zone despite the Patriots making three trips there. I counted four snaps. The team was successful on one of those trips — making them 3-for-7 in the red zone over their last two games — but Harry wasn't on the field for it. Harry (and fellow rookie Jakobi Meyers) got red-zone work over Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett during one failed trip in the second quarter. Neither rookie saw a target then.
On New England's next drive, the Patriots got to the Eagles 4-yard line and threw on three straight plays — incomplete to Sanu, incomplete to Edelman, incomplete to James White — but Harry wasn't on the field for those either.
On the next drive, with good field position gifted to the Patriots by a Carson Wentz fumble, Harry was not part of the plan. Harry was not on the field for the turbo series the Patriots ran to start the third quarter, either . . . But he was on the field for the two-point conversion that followed Dorsett's touchdown on that drive. That would suggest the Patriots like the idea of using Harry's size down by the goal line, even if only as a blocker at times.
But given the Patriots' struggles in the red zone (50 percent, 21st going into Week 11) and in their goal-to-go passing attack (28th in success rate from 10 yards and in going into Week 11), maybe Harry would help remedy their issues there.
Gilmore said he's been impressed by some of the physical elements Harry has taken with him to practices. Perhaps those can translate when the Patriots get a crack at the end zone.
"He's physical," Gilmore said. "He makes tough catches. You can be covering him and he'll still make a catch. I think that's what he's good at. Hopefully he'll keep getting better and he can help us out as the season goes on."
Down by the goal line, where space is hard to come by in the passing game, where big targets near the back end line can provide real value, it may be only a matter of time before Harry gets a shot. They need to find a way to be more efficient from 20 yards and in, and it looks like he has the skill set to potentially make an impact there.
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