In the first game this year between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, old man James Harrison—who was not yet even installed as the starting rotational player at the right outside linebacker position, let alone a full-time starter—got the better of rookie first-round left tackle Ronnie Stanley.
Harrison had two sacks of Joe Flacco in that game, including a strip sack, and also drew a holding call and induced Stanley into a false start. The Steelers’ defense also shut down the run, particularly to the left side of the offense, where Harrison is positioned, if I’m not mistaken.
It was probably the worst game of Stanley’s rookie season, and the sixth-overall draft pick is eager for the rematch against a man 16 years his elder. He maintained that he was shaking off rust, as he has just returned after missing four games for the Ravens dealing with a foot injury.
At least, he attributes his struggles—including four total penalties—partly to the rust factor, but he did give Harrison credit, saying that his struggles “had to do with both it being my first game back and him being who he is as an opponent. It didn’t help me out in any way. That’s just how it is when you come back from injury and face a guy like that”.
The Ravens article that quote is from claims that Stanley has only given up seven quarterback hurries in the six games since then, and no hits or sacks. I haven’t watched every snap that he has taken to verify that, but I have seen enough to know that he has been at least solid.
Since that game, the fortunes of both players have changed. Stanley has been healthier and has settled down to have a successful rookie season, while Harrison has played some of his best football in years and has been reinserted into the starting lineup as an every-down player, having not come off the field in the past two games.
His two sacks in that game began a successful streak for his pass-rushing game, which includes five total sacks in the past seven games, as well as numerous hits and hurries. Even Harrison himself has expressed surprise at even how good his body feels this far into the season with how much he has played, especially in the past five weeks.
One thing that is obvious is that the battle between Harrison and Stanley will take on an even higher profile than it did in the first game, and it’s probably pretty unlikely that it will be nearly as one-sided as it was the first time around.
Stanley has become a more physical and confident player as the season has progressed and he has found more success—and it doesn’t hurt that he has had Marshal Yanda playing alongside him for the past several weeks. But Harrison has done some nasty things against some of the best left tackles in the league, so don’t expect him to be shut out tonight.