The preseason debut of 39-year-old Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison was an anticipated event, but in spite of the fact that he ended last season as a starter, he did not play his first snaps of the 2017 season in that role.
In fact, he did not make it onto the field until the fourth defensive drive for the Steelers, with their first-round draft pick, T.J. Watt, manning the right outside linebacker position for the first three drives. But Harrison played extensively after that, into the fourth quarter, which may be the first time he has done that in the past decade.
His game was pretty light on the stat sheet. Officially, he was credit with just one assisted tackle and a sack that he shared with Vince Williams as his only contributions on the night. But statistics only tell you a part of the story, and Harrison had his good moments and bad—not unexpected for an over the hill former defensive player of the year taking his first snaps of the year.
In reality, there wasn’t a whole lot for him to do, quickly going back over his snaps from last night’s game, as a lot of plays simply did not go his way, and much of the Colts’ offense was predicated upon quick releases on screen passes.
His first real pass rush of the night probably did not go the way that he liked. With the Steelers facing a third and 11 to try to get off the field, Harrison started to work the left tackle back into the pocket, but as he tried to kick inside, he ended up tripping over the left guard and going into the ground. Tyler Matakevich got a good hit on the quarterback as he threw, but he still got the pass off for a first down.
His side of the defense got burned on the next play on a screen pass to the running back, a play largely created by Jordan Dangerfield, playing in the box, turning around to drop into coverage at the worst possible time to notice the pass going to the running back.
Later on that same drive, Harrison dropped into coverage for the second time, but he slipped as the tight end kicked to the middle of the field. The pass went his way, but fortunately for the outside linebacker, it was dropped. His bull rush got some penetration on third down, but not before the pass got off, William Gay defending it in the end zone.
The veteran rotated in and out after that into the fourth quarter, but it’s worth noting that it took him until the middle of the second quarter to check in. At least for the moment, it appears as though they do plan to have Watt in the starting lineup, with Harrison getting his reps behind the starters.