James Harrison still a one-man wrecking crew at 38 years old
It’s entirely possible to believe, at this point, that Steelers linebacker James Harrison is not of this world. Harrison was born in 1978—making him 38 years old—and he just recorded one of the most dominant games of his career (92.5 grade) in the playoffs on Wild Card weekend.
In an age where the youngest players currently in the league were born in 1995—a time when Harrison was playing high school football—he continues to act like age is just a mental construct, and outshines all of his younger teammates, several of whom were drafted to replace him in Pittsburgh.
Former first-round draft pick Bud Dupree made some splash plays against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, and was the player with the monster (high) hit on Dolphins QB Matt Moore that knocked him from the game briefly, but Harrison dramatically outstripped him in terms of overall production.
Even if we look at raw numbers, Harrison effectively doubled Dupree’s contribution across the board. In fact, Harrison came pretty close to matching the output of the rest of the Steelers linebackers corps all by himself, especially when it comes to pass-rushing.
Things get even more ridiculous if you compare Harrison’s output to the production the Dolphins managed in a one-sided affair. The Miami defense totaled six pressures in the game; Harrison recorded seven by himself, as well as a forced fumble. The Miami defense had 20 defensive stops as a unit, while Harrison alone notched eight.
Harrison wasn’t even a starter at OLB for the Steelers to begin the year. The team has already tried to replace him on multiple occasions, but he just keeps outplaying those drafted to take his place. This season, he has the same number of sacks (five) as both of the most recent former first-round draft picks the Steelers have used to address the outside linebacker position (Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree) put together, and 12 hurries more than the pair combined. Injuries have limited the play of the other two, but even so, they have 125 more snaps rushing the passer than Harrison this season, and have been significantly out-produced by the veteran.
The truly ridiculous thing about Harrison’s performance—and season as a whole—is that he is getting better as the year goes on. This was by far his best game of the season, but all of his best five games have come in the second half of the year (three of them since he became a full-time starter again). Other than running up against LT Andrew Whitworth and the Bengals in Week 15, he has been on a tear.
The Steelers now travel to Kansas City, where Harrison will face off against Chiefs LT Eric Fisher in a matchup likely to be pivotal to the outcome of that game. As seems to be a trend this season, this will be another rematch of a regular-season game between the two sides. When Harrison and Fisher went head-to-head in Week 4, there wasn’t too much to it. Harrison notched a QB hit and three hurries, but didn’t register a sack, and wasn’t the force in the run game that we saw against the Dolphins.
As previously mentioned, Harrison has played better lately than earlier on in the season, and much of that can be attributed to an increase in snaps, so it’s likely Fisher will have his hands full. After an extremely ugly first two years in the league (earning overall season grades of 34.9 and 44.3, respectively, on PFF’s 1–100 scale), Fisher has improved over the last two years (72.5 and 76.6 overall grades), but appears close to maxing out as an average starter. He has surrendered six sacks over the season and 10 penalties, with just one game of perfect pass-protection on the season coming against the hapless Indianapolis defense.
Perhaps the most defining play of Harrison’s career came in the playoffs, on the biggest stage of all in Super Bowl XLIII almost 10 years ago. Harrison returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown as time expired to end the half, leading a 14-point swing in Pittsburgh’s favor. This season, the veteran has the chance to be one of Pittsburgh’s most important contributors in a playoff run once more.
James Harrison may be 38 years old, but he is still a one-man wrecking crew, and somebody the Chiefs need to be extremely wary of come Sunday.