Though he played all but three snaps against the New Orleans Saints, which was by far the largest percentage of snaps he’s taken in a game this season, Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison suffered a knee injury “of some description”, as Mike Tomlin might say, which he and the team is obviously monitoring closely.
Harrison has already sat out the first two days of practice this week with that knee keeping him off the field. Is he in jeopardy of missing the Steelers’ pivotal divisional matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday—the only other NFL team for which he’s played a meaningful snap?
These are clearly not veteran’s days off for the 36-year-old edge rusher. If he doesn’t practice today, it would certainly be unlikely for him to play on Sunday. It’s rare for a player to play after not practicing all week.
In the meantime, it’s Jarvis Jones taking Harrison’s reps in practice, and he may be tasked with taking on a greater than expected role immediately upon his return.
Jones, of course, began the season as the starting right outside linebacker, but after missing the past nine and a half games, it would seem unlikely that he would be asked to take on much of a workload in his first game back if it would be avoided.
The Steelers could go back to Arthur Moats, who started the first seven games after Jones’ injury, and likely would, though it’s fair to point out that he has only played 14 snaps over the course of the past two games since Harrison took over the starting reps at the position.
Of course, anybody who lines up at right outside linebacker against the Bengals will have a tough time of it, particularly in pass protection, against Andrew Whitworth, who according to Pro Football Focus has only given up one quarterback hit and no sacks in 12 games this season. Then again, quality left tackle play is the common theme within the division for the Steelers with Joe Thomas and Eugene Monroe.
Harrison has become one of the team’s best defenders after taking a few games to play his way back into football shape. It would be a significant loss if he cannot participate in the game. Perhaps the Steelers put too many snaps on his knees in that last game, and he needs to be spelled more in the future.
If he does indeed sit out the game, it will be interesting to watch for how the snaps are divided at right outside linebacker between Moats and Jones. Moats only saw 12 snaps combined in favor of Jones during the first two games of the season, the only two games in which Jones played from beginning to end.
Moats has proven himself capable, however, despite losing more and more time to Harrison as the games of ticked by, and Jones hasn’t played since the 21st of September. One would think that Harrison being out would open the door for more playing time right away, but with Moats there, that may not be the case.