Would you pay more than $46 million to beat the Cowboys?
That’s essentially what the Giants did during the offseason when they signed defensive tackle Damon Harrison to a five-year contract.
In the big picture, he was brought in to help secure the line of scrimmage, improve the run defense and give the Giants a better overall push up front in all 16 games this season, against all 13 opponents.
But in reality, Harrison was added for this one game — Sunday against the Cowboys and their offensive line, which is one of the league’s best.
“A game like this,” Harrison said on Thursday, “that’s why I’m here.”
Almost everyone associated with the Giants agrees with that. There’s no shying away from it, just as there is no shying away from a 350-pound monster who can take on blockers two at a time and still is able to devour ballcarriers at a rate worthy of his nickname: “Snacks.”
Harrison was part of a triumvirate of free agents added to help the defense go from worst to somewhat-better-than-worst, joining defensive end Olivier Vernon and cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Those players will get a chance to prove their worth at other points throughout the season. But after the last few years of being beaten up by the Dallas offense — the Cowboys have averaged 149 rushing yards per game against the Giants in the last four meetings, including 233 in their Week 7 meeting — Harrison is up first.
“That’s why he’s here, that’s why we got him,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “I watched him out there today [at practice], he’s a leader. We’re hoping he demands double- teams. We’re hoping people can’t block him one-on-one. That’s what he’s here for and he’s that kind of player.”
“Snacks, he’s shown that he’s one of the best run-stoppers in the league the last three years,” linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. “It’s going to be tremendous for us to have him there. We’re going to be a lot better against the run, especially than we were last year.”
Harrison heaped the appropriate praise on the Cowboys’ line. He called them “one of the better ones in the NFL, if not the best” and called Travis Frederick “one of the top three centers in the NFL.” He even recalled how the Cowboys’ blockers gave his Jets team a lot of trouble when they played in the regular season last year.
“It was a challenge,” he said, “even for the line we had.”
Except for Harrison. He made a team-high 10 tackles in that game, five of them solos and one for a loss. The Cowboys had 133 rushing yards in that game, but 66 of them came on two long carries. The rest of the time, Harrison and his Jets had them pretty plugged up.
Now Harrison and his Giants want to do the same.
“Everybody is up to the challenge,” Harrison said. “These are the types of games you want to play every week.”
It’s a game against a team that is relying on its stature up front to protect a rookie quarterback in Dak Prescott and pave the way for a rookie running back in Ezekiel Elliott.
“It doesn’t matter to me who’s playing for them at the skill positions,” Ben McAdoo said. “They’re always going to lean on that offensive line. It’s one of the best in the league, if not the best. They’ll take their shots down the field, but they’re going to lean on that line.”
The Giants plan to lean right back.
“You can’t hide the fact that it’s a lot of weight on my shoulders to control the middle of the defense,” Harrison said, adding that fellow defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and the inside linebackers will help in that regard. “We’ll see how it plays out.”
And see if the investment in Harrison pays off with a win.