Harrison Ignites Steelers' Pass Rush

James Harrison's safety opens floodgates for pass pressure in Steelers' 24-19 win over the Packers.

PITTSBURGH -- Coming off their worst sack total in 26 years, the Pittsburgh Steelers had no choice but to improve their pass rush.

So they drafted two, including a first-rounder, and locked up James Harrison and Arthur Moats before they could leave in free agency.

And in their first two preseason games they compiled three sacks, but only one in the first half of a game, and none from a starter.

The way the Green Bay Packers rolled down the field with nary a scare on their first drive, it appeared the "Blitzburgh" days were lost in time and space.

But then the dam burst, courtesy of James Harrison, who beat Packers tackle Don Barclay and sacked quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the end zone for a safety. It opened the floodgates for Steelers pass-rushers of all ages and tiers as they piled up six sacks and had plenty of more pressure during their 24-19 win.

"Deebo did a great job of setting the tempo," said Jarvis Jones. "After they drove the ball on the first series we did a great job of responding with the safety. After that, man, guys were getting to the quarterback and getting to the ball. Lot of one-on-one rushes too. Coach Tomlin was telling us earlier in the week not to run no games. He wanted to see a lot more straight rushes, one-on-one rushes, and I think the guys did a great job."

Keith Butler, the new defensive coordinator, said earlier in the week that he needed to see the Steelers get to the quarterback without blitzing, and that was the game plan Sunday. The edge rushers responded with four of the six sacks.

Safety Shamarko Thomas and linebacker Ian Wild sacked quarterbacks while blitzing, but Harrison, Jones, Bud Dupree and newcomer L.J. Fort beat their men off the edges.

"That's what football's all about," said Harrison. "There's no need to scheme and get zig-zag patterns and run a bunch of games. It's about beating the man across from you. When you can do that, it makes everyone else's job a lot easier and it makes the defense better."

Mike Tomlin wasn't as pleased as the players. But of course he was also dealing with the loss of center Maurkice Pouncey to a broken ankle, and Tomlin also watched his first-team defense give up eight points in 11 seemingly easy and effortless plays.

"I thought it warmed up, but we can't be in that business," Tomlin said of his team's pass rush. "That's the knee-jerk response I have to the performance. The tape may tell me something different. You don't always get the opportunity to warm up in our business."

Then again, Harrison wasn't on the first for those first 11 plays. He entered with Dupree for the second series, after Antwon Blake had downed a Jordan Berry punt at the one-yard line.

On third-and-10, Harrison ran the arc and brought Rodgers down from behind as Dupree and Stephon Tuitt piled on.

Perhaps Harrison would've helped the defense warm up more quickly had he started the game.

"That's not my decision," said Harrison.

Does it bother him?


Did his sack ignite the others?

"I'm just trying to do whatever I can do," he said. "I'm just an old man out there trying to stay out here with these young bulls."

The one young bull, Dupree, had his best day yet.

In a week in which he took on the offensive line in one fight, and right tackle Marcus Gilbert in another, Dupree earned some respect on the field with a third-quarter sack of rookie Brett Hundley that should've been Dupree's second of the game. His earlier sack had been nullified by nose tackle Cam Thomas' offside penalty.

"I feel like I got better today," said Dupree. "I know each week I get better and better." Dupree said the power and quickness he displayed on both plays, and the act of actually putting the quarterback down, took a bit of a burden off his shoulders.

"Yeah, a little bit," he said. "People are being patient with me. Coach is being patient with me. I'm being patient with myself. But I'm getting better each week and pretty soon I'll be where I want to be."

Jones, the other first-round pick with a burden on his shoulders, got his sack by rocking Barclay with a punch and cutting inside on third-and-two.

"The whole first series he was jumping a lot," Jones said of the Green Bay tackle. "I didn't get any calls to go inside because I was outside containing, but he was jumping a lot and when I got that call it was a two-way go. I knew he had been trying to jump me early to get out on the ball, so it was a great time to make an inside move and get to the quarterback."

Even Howard Jones, the third-team pass-rusher, pressured a Green Bay quarterback into an incompletion and also forced an intentional grounding.

It was that kind of day for the edge rushers as they all seemed to prove their mettle.

"It was," said Jarvis Jones. "They'd been talking about it all week, not blitzing, not bringing extra people. He wanted to see the front four get off the ball and get to the quarterback. It was a great day to do that."

Steel City Insider Top Stories