For all the running backs the Green Bay Packers have churned through this season, DuJuan Harris managed to do something on Saturday that no other back could accomplish during the regular season.
During Saturday’s 24-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings, the first-year running back not only led the Packers in rushing with 17 carries for 47 yards, but also in receptions with a team-high five catches for 53 yards.
With the Vikings staying in a Cover-2 look throughout the first half, the Packers diced them underneath with short check-down throws from Aaron Rodgers to Harris, who also rushed for 31 yards and a touchdown on his eight first-half carries.
It all equated to a 100 total yards of offense for Harris, production that could come in handy if duplicated in this Saturday’s NFC Divisional playoff game with the San Francisco 49ers.
In the team's first meeting on Sept. 9, the 49ers' defense held veteran back Cedric Benson to only 18 yards on nine carries in the 30-22 season-opening victory while Rodgers didn't complete a pass to a running back in the game.
The 5-foot-8, 203-pound Harris could change that. While he dropped his first pass on third-and-1 from Rodgers to end the Packers’ first series on Saturday, he bounced back with three first-half catches for 35 yards as the Packers took a 17-3 halftime lead.
“Checkdowns are a part of every progression read in the passing game,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “We don't go into games and say ‘Throw it to the checkdown.’ That’s not the way we play it. It’s really a part of Aaron recognizing the coverage and how the coverage reacted to the primary and secondary receiver and he’s doing as far as taking care of his protection responsibility and getting through his proper checkdowns.”
Harris' 53 yards on five catches were the most production the Packers' offense has received from a running back in the passing game since Cedric Benson's four catches for 35 yards against Chicago in Week 2.
Since being promoted to the active roster with wide receiver/returner Jeremy Ross on Dec. 1, Harris' role has expanded from a change-of-pace back seeing a handful of snaps to an every-down workhorse the past two weeks.
Along with proving himself competent in pass protection, Harris’ hard, explosive running style and ability to peel out from the backfield has given the Packers a presence they’ve lacked for most of this season.
With still out James Starks with a knee bruise and Alex Green sitting out despite being active for the past two weeks, Harris has overtaken veteran Ryan Grant as the team’s primary ball-carrier while not letting the stage get too big for him.
When asked on Saturday what was going through his mind while staring down the Lambeau Field tunnel during introductions before an NFL playoff game, Harris said plainly, “Just play.”
Despite being active and not playing in each of the last two weeks, Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements said Green still has a role in the team’s offense, but right now Harris has been running the ball well given his opportunity.
“He's a pretty cool customer, so I don't think a whole lot gets him excited,” McCarthy said. “The most excited I think I ever heard him was in the Minnesota game up in the MetroDome and he made a comment, I had to be standing pretty close by, and he said, ‘This is a pretty cool atmosphere. This is pretty neat.’ He’s a steady personality. He’s getting better every time he’s getting more opportunities and we just have to keep preparing him. He does a lot of things naturally and he’s doing a good job protecting the football.”