— Richard🇬🇾Johnson (@RJ_Writes) September 20, 2022
Quite a few New Orleans Saints players have begun to make second careers for themselves in football media, and today we’ll be checking in on Roman Harper. The longtime starting strong safety won a Super Bowl XLIV ring with New Orleans, but these days he’s working as an analyst for the SEC Network. On Monday evening he sat down with “Thinking Out Loud” hosts Richard Johnson and Spencer Hall to recap one of the weekend’s most exciting college football games: Appalachian State’s dramatic win over Troy, one of their Sun Belt rivals, on a last-second Hail Mary touchdown pass.
“Who says grown men don’t cry?” Harper quipped after reviewing the game’s highlight play, complete with an all-time-great radio call from the App State press box. His brother is a Troy alum, so this wasn’t exactly a defensive performance he looks back on fondly.
“Hate that, I like to sometimes rush four, five, six,” Harper said, when examining Troy’s decision to rush three linemen and drop eight defenders into coverage. “I like to zero blitz it. I’ve actually ended a game against Cincinnati, versus the Cincinnati Bengals, I told everybody to get up out of here after the sack.”
The game Harper’s referring to there was a 2010 clash between his old Saints team and Carson Palmer’s Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. A furious fourth quarter scoring output saw the lead change twice and tie up until Marques Colston caught a 3-yard touchdown pass with 34 seconds left in regulation to retake the lead and go up 34-30 in Cincinnati.
And the Bengals put themselves in position to win the day with a 47-yard return on the subsequent kickoff, setting up Palmer and his offense at midfield. A quick pass moved them further up field, into New Orleans territory. With eight seconds left to play and just 37 yards separating them from an upset, Palmer dropped back to pass, targeting his dynamic receiving duo of Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens (who had already combined for 11 catches and 143 yards on the day). It was a tight spot for the Saints.
But as Harper recalled, the Saints chose to pressure the quarterback. They sent him on a blitz and he dropped Palmer for a 16-yard loss as time expired, very much saving the day for New Orleans. A rare pressure player who normally lined up at safety, Harper became something of a sack artist with the Saints — he’s currently tied with defensive tackles Don Reese and Mike Tilleman to rank 31st in the franchise record books with 17 sacks (per Pro Football Reference).
Blitzing the quarterback on these desperation Hail Mary heaves has become a trademark for Saints head coach Dennis Allen, who was Harper’s position coach on that 2010 squad. Serving as defensive coordinator in 2019 and charged with protecting a 2-point lead in the final seconds, he opted to pressure Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott with a similar safety blitz, sending C.J. Gardner-Johnson in to harass the passer before he could fully read the field. Prescott flung the ball far downfield to avoid taking a sack, and it ended up being intercepted by Marcus Williams. That’s just one example.