James Harrison still a one-man wrecking crew at 38 years old

James Harrison just recorded his best game of the season—and one of the most dominant outings of his career.

| 5 months ago
Steelers OLB James Harrison

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

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.

James Harrison vs. Bud Dupree

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.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • crosseyedlemon

    If I were the CEO of the company that makes ENSURE I’d be putting together a Super Bowl ad featuring Harrison.

  • Brandon Chester

    Completely bias article. First of all the AFC West has some of the best pass rusher a in the NFL. Khalil Mack, Joey Boss, Melvin Ingram, and Von Miller round out 4 of the top 6 edge rushers in 2016. Also don’t give me the whole excuse of “Mack and Miller only play on the right side” because I’ve seen Mack beat Fisher for a sack. Miller though might stay on the right. They switch sides from time to time. Then you sprinkle on players like Demarcus Ware, Bruce Irvin, Shane Ray, Shaq Barnnet and more it’s almost impossible for a tackle to become elite in the West. In fact if he played in any other division he’d be a top 10 tackle. Especially with a QB like Brees, Manning, or Brady that get the ball out quick. So don’t give me this whole “he’s just an average tackle”. What PFF doesn’t take into account is strength of opponent’s.

    • steelchambers

      Who would be an average tackle if he played in any other division? Surely not James, he’s a linebacker. And he wasn’t average when he was young and he’s not average now. Who do any the “linebackers” you mention play and should be recognized more? Mack, Miller. Mack plays against the Broncos who have a crappy line. Miller is a badass player and not bc of who he has played. If you say that Harrison shouldn’t be considered elite do to who he plays you can say that Miller wasn’t such a good player in any game he has played against the Panthers, bc their line sucks ass also. Your comment is biased. Which one of them same linebackers can say once their team started them full time, his team has not lost a game? James Harrison, the 38 year old linebacker can. Miller was second in the league in sacks with 13.5, and 78 total tackles. Shane Ray got 8 sacks with 48 tackles. Mack got 11 sacks and 73 tackles. I think Miller started all the games. I think Ray started most. And I know Mack got hurt but I don’t know how many games he started. James Harrison started 6 games. Recorded 5 sacks, and 53 tackles. That by a per game average is better than all three. And you can say look at who James has played and I say look at who the Broncos and Raiders played, not even half were tough teams they played.

      • Brandon Chester

        Lol wow man you can’t put two and two together? I was obviously talking about Eric Fisher. Broncos and Raider’s didn’t face anyone tough? Sike the AFC West was obviously the best division this year. I was saying if Eric Fisher played anywhere else they wouldn’t be claiming his ceiling as “an average tackle”. Eric Fisher has the toughest pass rushers in all of the NFL TWICE per year. I’m not saying Harrison isn’t elite. Obviously you’re having a hard time comprehending the message. As for “winning” every game he started. That’s not exactly proof of his quality play.

        Look at who the Broncos and Raider’s have played. OK seeing that none of the teams in your division finished over .500 you can already rule out a tough division. The AFC West had 3 winning teams. So the strength of the division favors the AFC West.

        • steelchambers

          Well you’re still an idiot to say James Harrison at 38 years old is not a good edge rusher. I bet all the pussies you talk about won’t even be playing at 38 let alone be good at it at that age.

      • BigRed

        Ya based on his snap to sack ratio he gets a sack every 125-130 snaps. His tackles is about 10 tackles for the same snap ratio. This doesn’t exactly display his dominance as he’s ranked 9th among pass rushers but Jones and Dupree both have better snap to sack ratios.

    • crosseyedlemon

      I think you missed the whole point of the article. The players you mentioned have been productive but but let’s see if they can have the impact at age 38 that Harrison has had (assuming they last that long).

  • steelchambers

    James Harrison does have more sacks than Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree, but that is bc Jones has none and Dupree just started 5 games ago. He got a sack a game since he has come back with 5.5 in the 5 games he played. Plus one Sunday. S

    • Brandon Chester

      Also not true. He started versus the chief’s earlier this year and didn’t have not one sack. In fact Harrison has more snaps then any other of your edge rushers which CLEARLY means he started so this entire comment is a load of BS. Harrison led all of your edge rushers with 648 snaps. The next is Jones with 481. So clearly he was starting more then any other player. Perhaps you had to much to drink like your coach Joey Porter? Because clearly this comment makes no sense whatsoever.

      • steelchambers

        Lay off the crack dumbass. You are just a dumb fucking idiot. Harrison didn’t lead the league snaps. People like you should stay at ho e off the web BC you have no freaking g clue what you are talking about. If Harrison led all edge rushers in snaps then that means there are no starters out there. Even if he did start the chiefs game and got no sacks but Heyward gt three. And since the Steelers stomped the pitiful chiefs it makes them the better team. Stomped them 43 -14. Just pitiful

      • steelchambers

        And all 14 of them points came in garbage time. Loser

  • LostAlone

    Honestly I think that Harrison is so good BECAUSE he has so much experience. Obviously he’s still in great shape too, but I think it comes down to him knowing the NFL and the scheme and where to be to make the play.

    • crosseyedlemon

      Good point. When you have been playing as long as Harrison has there aren’t a lot of tactics opponents can throw at you that you haven’t already seen before.

  • 42DAHA

    Eric Fisher has been an average left tackle against the best pass rushers in football, I’ll take it. Alex Smiths quick league leading time from snap to throw doesn’t hurt.

  • PredatorPeppers

    James Harrison is a great player as is Julius Peppers. Very dominant players for their age. Both better than DeMarcus Ware.