As I detailed yesterday morning, James Harrison found himself in the starting lineup at right outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night for the first time since 2012, playing about three quarters of the snaps at the expense of Arthur Moats, and I believe that is how he will be finishing up the 2014, and likely his career.
It’s been a long time coming since he was re-signed back in late September to provide depth at outside linebacker following the long-term injury to starter Jarvis Jones, about whom the Steelers are “cautiously optimistic” that he will play again this season.
But really, have they missed him with Harrison back out there, who, by the way, is currently leading the team—tied with Cameron Heyward—in sacks with four, despite spending most of the season logging around 50 percent of the defensive snaps or less?
Harrison quite simply has been playing better than anybody could have reasonably expected him to, not just at his age and health, but also coming out of retirement. It took him a few weeks to play himself back into shape, but there are plenty of moments in which he looks like the Harrison of old out there.
Some of those moments came at the expense of the Tennessee Titans on Monday night, particularly in the running game, as Bishop Sankey learned above on the second defensive snap of the game.
The Titans attempted to counter Harrison with Richard Gordon, who spent a couple months with the Steelers last year due to injuries at the position, despite never seeing the field. This might be why. Harrison easily stacked and shed to make the tackle after a short gain on first down.
It was Harrison on the run stop again two plays later, this time providing backside support on a run off the right end. Lawrence Timmons picked through a hole on the play, but he missed the tackle, and Harrison kept pursuit to kill the play from behind after a gain of three yards.
Late in the third quarter, with the Titans facing second and goal from the four-yard line, attempting to go up by 11 points, Harrison was able to get by the rookie first round left tackle Taylor Lewan to hit Zach Mettenberger and influence his throw into an incompletion.
He looked like the pass rusher of old, taking that first step to the outside, dipping the shoulder, and using his arm to keep the tackle outside of his frame, speeding around the corner with nice bend. Harrison caught the quarterback in the thigh, which forced his throw wide to the left.
There are some players that defensive coordinators should just know not to leave unblocked on the back side, and Harrison has long been one of them, even now. He chased this one from behind once again in the fourth quarter, taking out Sankey’s legs after a one-yard gain.