James Harrison Sets Defensive Tone For Steelers

It wasn’t even certain if James Harrison would be active for the Pittsburgh Steelers when they hosted the Kansas City Chiefs yesterday. He had missed the previous two games with a knee injury, and in his absence, the Steelers saw the return of Jarvis Jones, whose injury in the third game of the year prompted Harrison’s signing mid-season in the first place.

Yesterday was the first game of the entire season in which they had all four outside linebackers healthy, so there was some question as to how that would be handled, though with three key players missing the contest due to injury, perhaps it was a bit easier to make that decision.

Harrison, of course, resumed his place in the starting lineup and played like a wrecking ball for a defensive unit that only allowed the Chiefs’ offense to garner four field goals. He was strong against the run, and he got to Alex Smith twice in the backfield, when he wasn’t being held.

The 36-year old edge rusher looked rejuvenated out there, perhaps playing his best, or at least most spirited game as he raised his season sack total to 5.5, which is a respectable number for him given his playing time.

It wasn’t just obvious to those who were watching Harrison, either. He noticed it as well. After the game, the veteran said that he felt better than he had all season, perhaps better than he had in the past two or three years. It very nearly reached the point of him acknowledging that he is not dismissing offhand the possibility of playing another season in Pittsburgh.

Having a multiple-sack game, of course, is always a good way to get a veteran pass rusher to start thinking about perhaps giving it another go, and the Steelers could certainly use another year out of him, particularly if they lose Jason Worilds in free agency.

He was a terror at times on the field, forcing the Chiefs’ left tackle to resort to holding on numerous occasions without being penalized for doing so. Still, he managed to blow past and tackle running back De’Anthony Thomas in the backfield for a loss of six yards, for example.

None of his teammates seemed particularly surprised by the way that he came back in a big way in this game. After all, he was playing at a high level a few games ago as well. It’s something that they see in practice all the time.

The reality is that he may well be just about at the best that he has been in the last few years. Harrison has dealt with a number of injuries in recent years, chronic injuries that the rigors of an NFL schedule have made it difficult to build from. His retirement caused him to play his way into shape, but the rest that he has gotten in the prior two games seems to find him rejuvenated for a playoff run.

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