If the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Wildcard round loss to the Baltimore Ravens is to be the last game of James Harrison’s career, then it’s a bit disappointing that one of the many pressures he had against rookie undrafted left tackle James Hurst didn’t end up in a sack.
But either way, he finished the season on a strong note, and certainly left the door open, at least from a talent perspective, that he could keep this going for another year. Of course, the fact that he was able to match up against Hurst, rather than Eugene Monroe, played a role in that.
Harrison made his presence felt on the Ravens’ opening drive, after the defense forced them into a third and 15 on their own two-yard line. Naturally anticipating a throw, the Steelers moved to their nickel defense, with Harrison coming off the right side.
With the back spilling out to pass protect in the opposite direction, Harrison was left one on one with Hurst, and the outside linebacker clearly won the leverage battle, forcing the left tackle back in the pocket with a strong bull rush. That caused Joe Flacco to tuck the ball in and run for it, coming up well short of the first down.
Late in the first quarter, as the Ravens began to drive down the field, Harrison got around the edge again on a second and 10 play, when Baltimore hoped to get by with just a tight end picking him up. Harrison took a false step inside first, which got the tight end flat footed before winning the corner. He got his arm around Flacco’s waist, who skipped a pass in front of his running back for an incompletion.
Harrison continued to get pressure throughout the game against the overmatched rookie, but sometimes the Ravens were able to make the most of it. Late in the third quarter, for example, Flacco completed an 11-yard touchdown pass after first being pressured by Harrison.
Harrison had little problem dipping and getting around Hurst at the line of scrimmage, but once he was in the backfield and sniffing at Flacco’s heels, the left guard came in and knocked him to the ground. This bought Flacco the time and space to scramble out of pressure to his left and find the open man.
Early in the fourth quarter, he had a hand on the Steelers’ biggest defensive play of the game, even if the two rookie defenders received most of the accolades when Justin Forsett fumbled.
The back fumbled the ball, of course, because he walked into the back of his own tight end. It was Harrison, with a late jerk, who forced the tight end into the back as he came around the edge. The offense converted that into six points two plays later to make it a one-possession game.