After watching film of Al Harris contain then-San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Terrell Owens, Packers Head Coach Mike Sherman immediately became interested in acquiring the Philadelphia Eagles nickel cornerback.
"He really shut him down pretty good," Sherman said. "That was the selling point."
The Packers made a great buy in 2003, securing Harris' services in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick. Now they have a lockdown corner, who currently leads the NFL's No. 1-ranked pass defense.
"He means a lot to our defense," Sherman said.
Harris' role could become even more crucial this week. Although the Detroit Lions' passing offense ranks 26th in the league, they feature a fleet of athletic wide receivers, including Roy Williams, Mike Williams and Charles Rogers.
A quadriceps injury has limited Roy Williams to eight starts, but he still leads the Lions with 465 receiving yards. At 6-foot-2, 212 pounds, he has a rare size and speed combination and also has shown a flair for making highlight-reel catches.
Harris covered Williams almost exclusively during the first meeting between the Lions and Packers in Week 1. The Lions won 17-3, but Harris limited Williams to two catches for 13 yards. The Lions' No. 1 receiver knows he must rise to the occasion when he faces Harris again.
"He's the best DB in the league," Williams said. "I always look at this as the biggest challenge of the year."
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Harris matches up well against Williams because of his size and physical style. He specializes in bump-and-run coverage and jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage.
"He pressures you all game," Williams said. "He just gets up in your face. He knocks you off your route. He knocks your timing off. He just disrupts everything."
Harris has disrupted opposing receivers all year long and is a major reason why the Packers have the No. 1 ranked pass defense. They have not finished with that mark since 1996 when the team won Super Bowl XXXI. The players take pride in that ranking, but they know how statistics can fluctuate in the NFL.
"It's a complement to the guys on our back end and our defense as a whole," defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "But we also know those things change week to week."
Harris is not the only reason why the Packers' pass defense is ranked so high. Each level of defense has played a role. Both Kampman, who has a career-high 6.5 sacks, and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila have emerged as pass rushing threats on the perimeter. Speedy linebackers like Nick Barnett, Paris Lenon and Robert Thomas have chased down running backs in the flat. Rookie Nick Collins has shown promise as well.
"Everyone is getting it done," Kampman said. "Everything is a symbiotic relationship."
No one has displayed that teamwork on this cohesive unit more than Harris. During mid-season Sherman asked him to move inside and cover the slot receivers. Harris had never played that inside cornerback position in his eight years in the NFL, and that role has a totally different set of reads.
"His willingness to help the team and to do that -- I think shows a lot about this guy," Sherman said. "He's a tremendously unselfish player."
Because of his new position, Harris may not play opposite Roy Williams during Sunday's matchup as frequently as he did in Week 1. But his size and physical style also make him the perfect foil to the other imposing Lions receivers, including the 6-foot-4 Rogers and 6-foot-5 Mike Williams.
Harris has effectively covered receivers -- both large and small -- all season. With 36 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and 14 passes defended, Harris hopes to make his first Pro Bowl. He even marked down that objective on a sheet of paper inside his locker.
"It matters," Harris said. "But the main goal is to win"
Whether or not Harris makes the Pro Bowl, his addition via the 2003 trade has helped bolster the Packers pass defense.
"I can't say enough about Al," Sherman said. "He's been as much if not more than I expected."