View Full Version : Steelers Defense: No Holding Back Harrison

01-26-2009, 11:44 PM
Steelers Defense: No Holding Back Harrison

By Tony Moss, NFL Editor

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(Sports Network) - The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year needs but eight fingers to count the number of games he started over his first four seasons in the league.

He wasn't drafted, was released three times by the Steelers, and spent all except three weeks of the 2003 season out of football entirely.

The last time the Steelers reached the Super Bowl stage, in 2005, he was something of an afterthought, winning a ring as a special-teamer but not looking like a guy about to break through to the general NFL consciousness.

These days, even casual league observers know James Harrison's name, and opposing offensive coordinators and quarterbacks have nightmares about him.

In 2008, he was the best player on what has arguably been one of the NFL's great all-time defenses.

The Kent State product was the ringleader of the Steelers' furious pass rush, piling up 16 sacks and seven forced fumbles for a defense that, frankly, didn't spend that much time on the field.

The Black and Gold led the NFL in regular season total defense (237.2 yards per game), scoring defense (13.9 points per game), and passing defense (156.9 yards per game) in 2008, and finished second against the run (80.2 yards per game), though it was the 51 sacks the team generated (second-most in the league) that will likely cause the biggest headaches for the Cardinals and quarterback Kurt Warner.

Like many of the Steelers' previous opponents, Arizona will have to do everything in its power to stop Harrison, even if that act draws a yellow flag.

"All the great pass rushers are held, have been held historically in this game," Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin told Steelers digest. "That's how you stop them. Those guys are unblockable people. A little bit of that comes with the territory, but [Harrison]'s getting comfortable in those shoes and understanding what comes with being that kind of player. If he's truly great, he'll find ways to overcome it, like he has."

Credit Tomlin, who inserted Harrison into the starting lineup prior to last season, with turning the pass rusher into a household name. Harrison's spot in the lineup had been blocked by perennial All-Pro Joey Porter prior to 2007, and ex-Steeler Clark Haggans had been determined to be the team's best option opposite Porter. (Haggans is now a member of the Cardinals, though he is on season-ending injured reserve.)

That left Harrison as a backup - at times a seldom-used one - for most of his first four years in Pittsburgh, with a couple of spots on the NFL waiver wire sprinkled into that tenure.

Once he got his chance, the former All-MAC performer showed that he had the goods to excel in Dick LeBeau's zone-blitz scheme.

After proving his mettle with 8.5 sacks in a full-time starting role a season ago, Harrison truly mastered his domain during an eye-popping 2008.

For his part, the linebacker credits the system with his trip to the upper echelon of NFL defensive stars.

"The defense is built to play with 11 guys, and if all 11 guys are on the same page, playing the same defense on the same play, there's nothing that can go wrong and that's just how we feel about it," said Harrison upon winning Defensive Player of the Year honors.

"In my mind, I think I do -- and it's going to sound boring -- what the defense allows me to do and what my teammates allow me to do."

A breakdown of the Steelers' defensive personnel heading into Super Bowl XLIII.

Defensive Line: Perhaps the most unsung component of the Steelers' top-rated defense is their three-man front, which consists of space-eating nose tackle Casey Hampton (22 tackles, 1 sack during the regular season) and ends Aaron Smith (60 tackles, 5.5 sacks) and Brett Keisel (41 tackles, 1 sack). Smith and Hampton posted four tackles each in the AFC Championship against Baltimore, with Smith notching one of three sacks of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. Hampton and Smith had four tackles each in Super Bowl XL, and Hampton had a sack of Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck in that contest.

Inside Linebackers: Any plays that the d-line has not made against opposing running games this season have been cleaned up mainly by the Steelers' inside linebacker rotation of James Farrior (133 tackles, 3.5 sacks), Larry Foote (63 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and Lawrence Timmons (65 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 INT). Farrior had a team-high nine tackles against the Ravens in the AFC Championship game, while Timmons chipped in with a game-sealing fumble recovery that followed a monster hit by safety Ryan Clark on Ravens running back Willis McGahee. Farrior was one of three Steelers named to the AFC Pro Bowl team back in December, along with Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu.

Outside Linebackers: As mentioned, the engine of the Steelers defense is their pass rush, led by Harrison (101 tackles, 16 sacks, 1 INT) and fellow OLB LaMarr Woodley (60 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 1 INT). Harrison has had the stronger year, but when he was shut out of the sack category against the Ravens in the AFC Championship, Woodley helped pick up the slack with a pair of sacks. Harrison's lone sack of the 2008 postseason came against the Chargers' Philip Rivers in the Divisional Round. The Steelers had only two sacks when they last faced the Cardinals, in Week 4 of the 2007 campaign. Harrison led the team in special teams tackles in Super Bowl XL with three, but played only limited minutes on defense due to the presence of Porter and Haggans as well as his own recovery from an ankle injury.

Cornerbacks: No position on the field for Pittsburgh will be under more scrutiny than cornerback, as Ike Taylor (65 tackles, 1 INT), Deshea Townsend (20 tackles, 2 INT), and Bryant McFadden (41 tackles, 2 INT, 1 sack) will be the main figures trying to contain the 1,000-yard Arizona receiving trio of Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston. The group struggled against Fitzgerald last time out, surrendering 10 receptions for 120 yards to the All-Pro in their 2007 meeting, and caught a break when Boldin sat out that game due to injury. The corners have played generally well in this postseason, though in the AFC Championship win over Baltimore, the Ravens' second touchdown was partially enabled by a pass interference call on Taylor in the end zone.

Safeties: If the Steelers are to contain Fitzgerald and Boldin, they'll need a great deal of help from safeties Troy Polamalu (73 tackles, 7 sacks) and Ryan Clark (87 tackles, 1 INT), who both come off fine seasons and notable performances in the AFC Championship. On a 3rd-and-13 play with under five minutes left and the Steelers ahead, 16-14, a floated pass by Flacco was intercepted by Polamalu, whose 40-yard runback for a touchdown put Baltimore in an insurmountable 23-14 hole. Moments later, McGahee fumbled on the aforementioned hit by Clark, with the ball recovered by linebacker Lawrence Timmons to effectively seal the contest. Polamalu, reserve safety Tyrone Carter (16 tackles, 3 INT) and Deshea Townsend all had INTs against Baltimore. Polamalu both forced and recovered a Fitzgerald fumble in is meeting with the Cardinals last September. Polamalu and Carter combined for eight tackles in Super Bowl XL.

01/26 16:44:55 ET

01-27-2009, 01:34 AM
"Like many of the Steelers' previous opponents, Arizona will have to do everything in its power to stop Harrison, even if that act draws a yellow flag."

HA! Yeah right.

You guys think we finally see holding called in the SB?

01-27-2009, 09:12 AM
"Like many of the Steelers' previous opponents, Arizona will have to do everything in its power to stop Harrison, even if that act draws a yellow flag."

HA! Yeah right.

You guys think we finally see holding called in the SB?

http://img132.imageshack.us/img132/8352/43587046ql9.gif (http://imageshack.us)