James Harrison certainly needs no endorsement from me. The 38-year-old Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker’s body of work—figuratively and literally—is very much its own endorsement. His level of play at his age is incredibly rare. And to be clear, the level at which he is playing is, to put it simply, among the best in the league at his position.
It was only late in the season when Harrison began to play as the team’s starter, and even later that he became an every-down player again, for the first time in several years. And yet his basic stat line—53 tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception—is still a more than solid year.
It is no surprise that that quality of play carried through to the postseason, as he was arguably the best player on the field—best defensive player, anything—for either team. He registered 10 total tackles, as well as a sack and a half, and a key forced fumble late in the first half that the defense recovered, inside the red zone.
The last time the Steelers played the Dolphins, Jay Ajayi and the running game dominated them. On Sunday? Not so much. And yeah, Harrison was a big part of the change. On one of Ajayi’s first carries, he got out in front of a stretch run—helped forced to the sideline by penetration from the inside linebacker—forcing the back out of bounds for a three-yard loss.
In spite of the fact that he is seen as a bit of a brute because of his strength and physicality, however, his football intelligence has quite a lot to do with why he has been able to carve out such a long career. That is why the Steelers have him drop in coverage so frequently. Early in the second quarter, for example, he followed Ajayi out of the backfield and chased him down for a four-yard gain on third and five.
The Steelers’ offense afforded Miami a bit of late life at the end of the second quarter with an interception that got them started on what looked to be a scoring drive just before halftime, but Harrison had other ideas.
Considering how frequently he drops, Harrison showed drop on first and goal, which forced the Dolphins to reorganize their blocking assignments. When he rushed late, nobody picked him up, and he ran the quarterback down from behind, sacking him and knocking the ball loose for a turnover.
He had a hand in another turnover at the top of the third quarter as well. This time, it was a safety blitz that ultimately did the job, but Harrison was in the backfield too, and he literally threw Ajayi into the quarterback, which contributed to him losing possession of the ball.
Harrison tosses people around on the field. He tosses them into other people. And he makes plays out of it.