After the Pittsburgh Steelers re-signed James Harrison, I wrote that his conditioning, I did not believe, would play much of a role, if any, in terms of dictating his playing time. But even I did not anticipate him playing as much as he did in his first game.
While Jason Worilds over at left outside linebacker played every snap of the game, the Steelers frequently took Arthur Moats off the field, who is currently starting at right outside linebacker with Jarvis Jones sidelined for an extended period.
Moats, in fact, played only 43 of 71 snaps, with Harrison coming in for the rest. He made his first appearance five minutes into the first quarter, on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ first pass play. He lined up at the second level as an inside rusher, though he was held in check with relative ease by Tampa Bay’s center.
Harrison remained in the game to begin the Buccaneers’ third possession of the game midway through the opening quarter, helping to make sure that running back Doug Martin remained down on a four-yard loss on first down, though he did not assist on the tackle.
On the next play, he even dropped into coverage on Martin, who shifted out of the backfield into the slot, though he was not targeted.
Moats resumed his place on the right side after the three-and-out drive, with the two alternating two long drives for the remainder of the half. On the Buccaneers’ final possession of the half, Harrison even lined up on the left side, with Worilds moving inside as a shadow or inside rusher.
On the drive, he did manage to draw one holding call, but I must admit that he certainly showed some heavy legs on his pass rush, and little push, or even fight, for that matter. While he is logging snaps, he’s certainly not yet in top form.
Midway through the third quarter, Harrison helped up the Buccaneers’ center after the two clashed in a pile of bodies on a running play, and the shared pats on the helmet. I take that as a sign that he’s just glad to be playing again.
Early in the fourth quarter, Harrison was late in identifying an end around after flowing to his left and abandoning the right edge, allowing the runner to find room up the left sideline for 19 yards. He said after the game that he needs to get back into his playbook.
Moats came back on the field after that play in the middle of the drive. Harrison began the next—and penultimate—drive as well, but was again replaced by Moats midway through, a clear sign of fatigue setting in.
Harrison finished the game playing every snap on the Buccaneers’ short, game-clinching drive, rushing the passer with little success.
As a whole, the veteran linebacker had an interesting first game back. He played significantly more than many expected him to. In addition, he seemed to have been fully integrated into the game plan, dropping in coverage with frequency while rushing from both sides, as well as up the middle. While his overall performance and conditioning still need fine tuning, at least the Steelers have found a player they know they can count on.