While 37-year-old outside linebacker James Harrison had already been the lead performer and producer at his position group, his task was made all the more significant in light of the absence of Jarvis Jones.
The long-time Pittsburgh Steelers edge rusher responded with another strong game, recording his second sack of the season on a third-down play, and adding his first forced fumble since 2012, a turnover that helped turn the game around early in the second half.
Perhaps he came to the realization that he had to turn potential into production, because even when he was getting pressure during the first half, Carson Palmer and the Cardinals were finding ways to produce.
About five minutes into the game, it looked like Arizona was about to be forced to punt for the second consecutive drive with Harrison flushing Palmer out of the pocket, but the veteran quarterback was able to find his running back free and open down the field. A better pass would have resulted in a touchdown. Perhaps he would have thrown one minus the pressure.
Harrison was able to get into the backfield again early in the second corner, using a speed rush and low center of gravity to dip around the left tackle on third and five. While his leverage-enabled pressure may have resulted in Palmer throwing earlier than he intended, however, he still delivered a good ball that was only broken up due to good coverage down the field.
On the second play of the third quarter for the Cardinals, Palmer dumped a screen pass off to John Brown on second and six, who picked up six yards before the cornerback was able to wall him off. With one defender holding him up, Harrison came in to deliver a shot that jarred the ball loose, with the Steelers recovering at the 32-yard line and ultimately turning the fumble into a touchdown.
On the Cardinals’ next possession, they were able to pick up a first down on the first play, but after three more plays, and a holding penalty, they were forced to punt the ball back over to the home team, courtesy of Harrison.
Already facing a third and 18 because of the penalty, Harrison took advantage of the long-developing routes to bull rush the left tackle, twisting Palmer down as he attempted to scramble out of the pocket.
Late in the game, with the Cardinals facing a two-point deficit and in a second-and-long situation, Palmer took a deep shot that fell incomplete, but drew a pass interference. That ball may have never gotten off, however, had the left tackle not held Harrison after getting beaten around the corner. It was a big penalty that offset the pass interference down the field, which would have put Arizona inside the 25.
It is fair to say that at age 37, Harrison is still the best outside linebacker on this roster. He believes that he is in as good of shape as he has been since at least 2010, the last time the Steelers went to a Super Bowl, and the last time he recorded double-digit sacks.
Part of the reason that he is in such good shape and playing so well, however, is that the coaching staff has been giving him rest. He is still getting the lion’s share of reps, but getting subbed out has helped keep him fresh later in games, where he has been his most productive this season.