James Harrison Promotion Likely More About Situations Than Snap Counts

We got an opportunity yesterday to hear from fourth-year Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who confirmed that as of this week he is going to be rotating into the game behind James Harrison, who is now effectively the starter. This would fairly be considered a demotion, but will it really make much of a difference?

Using Football Outsiders’ snap tracker, the snap discrepancy between the two players is not great. Jones has logged 342 snaps by their count, while Harrison has played 294 snaps. But it should also be considered that the team has given Jones some playing time on the left side of the defense. Harrison has still logged time on 49.5 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.

Our charts have Jones at 354 snaps and Harrison at 303 snaps out of 609 total snaps, which inches Harrison ever so closer to 50 percent. But more to the point, Jones has played about 65 snaps as the left edge defense, while Harrison has played about five or six. According to our charting, they have been on the field together for 66 snaps.

In light of that context, I don’t know that we will really see much of a schematic shift in terms of who is lining up on a play-to-play basis, or at least from a quantitative point of view, following the news of Jones’ ‘demotion’ to ‘not the player who is on the field for the first snap of the game’, which is really all that the ‘starter’ designation has come to mean at the outside linebacker position at this point.

Given that the two have played somewhat roughly the same amount of snaps as the actual right edge defender, whether lined up as the outside linebacker or the defensive end, we might expect a small percentage shift of greater time logged in favor of Harrison, but perhaps not a significant change. Of course, we will have to wait and see how it plays out.

But what we can possibly hope for is a greater emphasis on strategic usage of their edge rushers, now that they seem to be pairing Harrison with, for the most part, Anthony Chickillo, whenever they actually do use their outside linebackers in pairs and rotate out both at the same time.

For example, Harrison was not on the field at the end of the game for the Steelers. But Mike Tomlin has complimented Chickillo for always been in the right place, and, of course, we know what Harrison does. Perhaps they should be using this personnel grouping for critical situations, provided that they are not in obvious need of a breather.

Jones has not been all bad this year by any means. I have written positively about him multiple times. But he did not have a good game against the Cowboys as either a pass rusher or as a run defender, and the bottom line is that he has not gotten the job done off the edge anywhere near at the level that the team needs him to.

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