Steelers' Mike Tomlin explains why James Harrison didn't get a single snap in Week 2
The veteran linebacker is the franchise's all-time leader in sacks
In the offseason, before James Harrison was officially demoted behind rookie T.J. Watt on the Steelers' depth chart, Steelers outside linebackers coach Joey Porter described Harrison as the team's "relief pitcher." In the Steelers' Week 2 win over the Vikings, Harrison was stuck in the bullpen, receiving zero snaps during the game.
On Monday, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin explained why he didn't play Harrison, chalking it up to wanting to play the hot hand.
"Is [Harrison] dropping [on the depth chart] or are other guys ascending?" Tomlin said to reporters Monday, via NFL.com. "Bud [Dupree] missed some time in Week 1, [Anthony] Chickillo was able to start. Chickillo produced two sacks. Respect those contributions. T.J. [Watt] got hurt in Week 2; wanted to leave the hot hands in there. Chickillo being that hot hand. We appreciate James. We know what James is capable of. James will ready himself."
If that sounded like a non-answer, well, just know that it was intentional.
"There will be a time in the season where we'll call on his services, and he'll deliver and he'll deliver in a big way," Tomlin said. "Much like he did in the latter part of 2016. In the meanwhile, man, we're going to continue to roll people and play guys that we see fit and not do a real good job of maybe describing our mindset or outlining our intentions because part of it is gamesmanship and part of it is it will define itself as we move forward."
Even though the Steelers made it clear before the season that Harrison would be the backup to Watt, it was still surprising to see Harrison get completely benched. In Harrison's career, which began in 2002, he's racked up 81.5 sacks in the regular season -- and another 11 in postseason play. He's the Steelers' all-time leader in sacks. At 39, he's no longer the dominant force he once was, but he's still capable. Harrison has recorded at least five sacks in each of the past three seasons. And in three playoff games a season ago, he racked up 2.5 sacks and 15 tackles.
The good news for the Steelers is that Harrison is willing to play his role.
"That's fine. I'm not worried about it, man," Harrison said in August, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Whatever they want me to do. I'm 39 years old and still playing football."
Meanwhile, the Steelers' younger pass-rushing linebackers have looked great. Watt, 22, and Anthony Chickillo, 24, have each notched two sacks. And 24-year-old Bud Dupree has one sack. If those three players can keep up that level of production, the Steelers can afford to keep Harrison on the bench and fresh for the playoffs. Considering Tom Brady and the Patriots stand in the Steelers' path to the Super Bowl, they'll need a onslaught of pass-rushers to get there. As another legendary pass rusher, DeMarcus Ware, once said, "The way to beat Tom Brady is to hit him."
So, maybe keeping Harrison fresh for their playoff run isn't the worst idea -- as long as the younger players keep producing, of course. Up next for the Steelers are the Bears, who have allowed five sacks in two games. The good news for the Steelers is that the Bears are stubbornly committed to playing Mike Glennon at quarterback. And Glennon is a statue in the pocket.
Just ask Tomlin.
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