I don’t think there has been a game this season yet more well-suited for the Pittsburgh Steelers to make great used of outside linebacker James Harrison than is today’s game in Detroit. Not only has he seemingly moved himself up in the pecking order, starter T.J. Watt is slightly dinged, and their left tackle is making his first start ever.
And he’s 6’9”. Harrison’s leverage game would seem to be an obvious advantage working against Brian Mihalik on paper. He already showed that he can still be effective, even in critical moments, working late against Eric Fisher of the Chiefs a couple of weeks ago.
Especially considering that the Lions don’t like to run the football very frequently, one would think that Watt, dinged ankle and all—as well as Bud Dupree on the other side—would be all the more in need of relief from time to time during the game to be spelled for a few snaps, depending on how well Detroit sustains drives.
Just generally speaking, I think that it is worth wondering aloud how many snaps Harrison might be able see coming into a game like this. The fact that they have a bye week lurking on the other side doesn’t hurt either.
While he has poked fun at the fact that he has not been playing much a time or two over the course of the past several weeks, the 39-year-old has generally been a good sport about the fact that he is in a significantly reduced role this year, even while teammates like Ben Roethlisberger have wondered about his reduced playing time.
The Steelers were without Dupree for the season opener, and Anthony Chickillo did well filling in for him. He then came in for Watt on the other side and continued to hold his own, so the coaching staff, in their own words, stuck with the hot hands for a while.
It seems that the hand has cooled enough that they like to get Harrison on the field again, or at least to have him dressed, instead turning to Arthur Moats for the inactive list. Watt has replaced the veteran’s role on special teams, though with him dinged, they may dress all five outside linebackers.
Another good showing on the field for the veteran would be well-timed, in truth, with the Steelers heading into the break. The coaching staff will be re-evaluating the season to date after today, and the manner in which players are used.
If Harrison has an impactful performance, then that could earn him a bigger piece of the pie over the course of the second half of the season. After all, it was just last season that they ended up moving him into the starting lineup. That’s not going to happen this year, but he could take some snaps away from the rookie, which could be beneficial to both down the stretch.