Over the course of the two games prior to the last, the right outside linebacker spot had been manned by a platoon of Arthur Moats, who spend most of the season starting there, and Jarvis Jones, who had just returned from injury and began the year as the starter at the position for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, with James Harrison making his return, the combination of Moats and Jones saw only eight of 66 defensive snaps. Moats did not see any snaps despite being active.
Of course, Sunday was the first game all season in which the team had four healthy outside linebackers on the roster. Harrison wasn’t even on the roster until Jones was placed on the short-term injured reserve list, and as soon as Jones was reactivated, Harrison injured his knee and missed time.
So it was that there was uncertainty over how the Steelers would handle the situation at outside linebacker, both in terms of who would be active—a decision made easier by some noteworthy injuries—and how the snaps would be divvied up.
While there was a possibility that Harrison could have found himself inactive, it wasn’t at all a surprise that he started the game. Since rejoining the team, he has slowly played better and with better conditioning. He started the last two games that he played in, seeing almost all of the snaps, prior to his knee injury, when earlier on he was seeing less than half.
But the fact that Harrison hardly came off the field in his first game back from injury was perhaps a bit of a surprise, at least if one was asked about it before the game. The reality, however, is that his performance while in the game is what kept him on the field for as much as he played.
Harrison was the best player on the field on defense for the Steelers on a unit that only gave up 12 points, so it wouldn’t have made much sense to rotate him much just for the sake of doing so, particularly in a game in which clinching a playoff berth was on the line.
So it is now that Moats and Jones were returning to reserve roles, even if it’s quite conceivable that they are the Steelers’ two starting outside linebackers to begin the 2015 season, if Harrison does indeed decide to retire and the team is unable to or uninterested in retaining Jason Worilds at a high-salaried level.
I thought that the Steelers might give Moats an opportunity to steal a possession or two away from Worilds over on the left side, but they chose to keep Worilds where he was for the duration of the game, and in truth he did respond with a strong game as a pass rusher. It almost seems as though the Steelers have some quality depth at the position right now, and it’s a bit easier to think that coming off a six-sack game—but then why do they only have 30 sacks on the year?