Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Rodney Harrison's brutal negativity was refreshing change for NFL primetime broadcast

Alex Reimer
November 23, 2018 - 10:39 am

One of the many knocks against novice “Monday Night Football” analyst Jason Witten is his propensity to figuratively lick the boots of seemingly every NFL owner, coach and player. When Witten isn’t spouting cliches or nonsense –– Ebu! Ebu! Ebukam! –– he’s extolling the virtues of everybody on the field. 

Rodney Harrison, who made his debut in the booth Thursday night, does not have that problem. The former Patriots Pro Bowl safety is brutally honest, and at times downright cynical, which is refreshing for an ex-player. Up until this point, Harrison has been confided to the studio for his decade at NBC. But that should change. While Falcons-Saints wound up being a primetime dud, Harrison’s commentary alongside Mike Tirico and Tony Dungy was a bright spot.

On Twitter, some viewers of the Thanksgiving nightcap criticized Harrison for his harsh commentary directed towards Matt Ryan. “No idea what Matt Ryan or the Falcons ever did to Rodney Harrison, but it sure seems like they did something,” wrote Atlanta beat writer William McFadden.

It’s true that Harrison lambasted Ryan for the duration of the evening, even though the quarterback had a good game statistically. Ryan passed for 377 yards with two touchdowns, and his one interception was tipped into the air. Julio Jones also fumbled to end the Falcons’ final drive of the first half, which was creeping into the Saints’ red zone. (The other Falcons fumble came when Ryan was stripped in the red zone.)

But Harrison’s greater point about the Falcons’ relative offensive ineptitude is spot on. Atlanta only converted 50-percent of its red zone possessions Thursday, which is a step up from most weeks. It is amazing that an offense featuring Ryan, Jones, Calvin Ridley and Muhammad Sanu can look so anemic at times, but here we are.

At numerous points Thursday, Harrison chided Ryan to throw to Jones in one-on-one coverage or target Sanu, who stands at 6-foot-2. Harrison also criticized Ryan for locking eyes with his receivers following a pass breakup from Alex Anzalone. 

While offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian deserves the bulk of the blame for Atlanta’s woeful red zone offense, Ryan is responsible, too. There isn’t another working analyst in football who would be so hard on a franchise quarterback and MVP winner. Harrison should receive credit for willing to lambast one of the league’s standard barriers on national television, even if his criticism was a little over the top. 

Throughout the broadcast, Harrison didn’t shy away from sharing negative tidbits about players, such as when he said in the third quarter that Saints coaches told him cornerback Marshon Lattimore wasn’t practicing hard early in the season. 

Even the game’s best and most incisive analysts, Tony Romo and Cris Collinsworth, double as hype men for the NFL. Harrison takes a different approach, and actually seems to give his genuine thoughts about what’s happening on the field. Let’s have some more of that.