Harris' play will tell story

After coming up short in marquee matchups last season, veteran cornerback Al Harris would like to show everybody he can handle the likes of Terrell Owens. PackerReport.com's Doug Ritchay explains.

The last time Al Harris went up against a Pro Bowl-type of wide receiver at Lambeau Field, he was getting twisted and turned around by the New York Giants' Plaxico Burress, who keyed the Giants' stunning upset in the NFC title game.

Earlier last season, another Pro Bowler had his way with Harris as Dallas' Terrell Owens caught seven passes for 156 yards in a game at Texas Stadium.

Harris has been the Packers' stopper at corner for almost five years, even with the high-priced acquisition of Charles Woodson in 2006, but recent games against top-flight receivers suggest Harris is on the decline.

Sunday night, in front of a national television audience at Lambeau Field, Harris gets to prove to everybody he's not slowing down, rather he had a couple rough patches last season. And truthfully, that may be it.

Owens and Burress toast cornerbacks more often than not, and with the game played the way it is these days, with cornerbacks having to watch contact every which way, receivers are in the driver's seat.

Still, Harris would like to show everybody he can handle the likes of Owens.

"He's a great player," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of Owens. "There's no doubt about it, with the numbers he's been able to put up. Really, what impresses you about Terrell Owens is the later he gets in his career, his conditioning. He's still playing at a very, very high level. "

Part of Harris' success is his physical brand of play, where he plays bump-and-run arguably more than any corner in the league, even at a slight build of 6-foot-1, 190 pounds.

One way Dallas and Owens avoided that last season was to put Owens in motion, forcing Harris off the line of scrimmage. Corners can't bump-and-run when a receiver is in motion, unless they decide to hold.

Harris is savvy enough to adjust, but he knows with Owens you have to take it to him.

"We need to challenge him and we need to try to take away the things he does best," Harris said. "But he's been very productive year in and year out, and I think they do a great job of formations (for) him. It was very evident in our game last year, and creating opportunities to get him the football."

The Harris-Owens matchup is easily one of the biggest keys to the game. That is supported by the way Owens played Monday against Philadelphia.

He ran roughshod through the Eagles' secondary, catching two touchdown passes, including one for 72 yards. His quick-strike ability has to be toned down by Harris.

However, this isn't all on Harris. There will be times Owens will be matched up with Charles Woodson. Furthermore, the Packers likely will have a safety deep to help on long passes.

But make no mistake about it, Sunday's premier one-on-one matchup is Harris vs. Owens. This game is a chance for Harris to prove he's capable of shutting down the game's best. It's also a chance for him to prove he is worthy of another Pro Bowl trip.

Notwithstanding, that's for another time, when the snow is flying in Lambeau.

Sunday's game is Harris' showcase moment.

"I think Al Harris is a tremendous competitor," McCarthy said. "If people want to point out one game or a certain situation to drive an opinion, that's fine. That's your choice. I don't share that opinion.

"I'm around him every day. He is competitive. We play a certain style of football, so there is going to be interaction more than other styles of football. I'm all for that, so I think Al Harris will line up and compete like he always does."

But will he compete like the stopper he developed into or will he compete like the one who had no answer last year for Burress at Lambeau? Whatever the answer, it should be intriguing.

Doug Ritchay is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. He has covered the Packers since 1993. E-mail him at dritchay@new.rr.com.

Packer Report Top Stories