At an age when most pass rushers have long since been put out to pasture, pocket-crashing Steelers linebacker James Harrison led a swarming Pittsburgh defense that battered Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore and bottled up power back Jay Ajayi in Sunday’s lopsided wild-card showdown.
Although Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown dissected Miami’s defense throughout a dominant Steelers first half, Moore was driving for a chance to trim Pittsburgh’s lead to one score at the half. When Moore dropped back from the eight-yard line on first-and-goal, Harrison streaked past left tackle Brandon Albert to blindside the quarterback, forcing a back-breaking fumble that short-circuited the Dolphins‘ comeback hopes.
“It was just a good disguise,” coach Mike Tomlin said after the game. “That’s just the savviness of a guy like James. He showed coverage and rolled down late and came off the edge and was unblocked because of it.”
Great play from a “Old Man” please Harrison just made huge Havoc play Just killed their possibly of going into halftime with sum momentum
Harrison finished with 10 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two quarterback hits in a dominant showing. While the Steelers pounded out 179 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 35 carries, Ajayi was rendered a non-factor — held 171 yards below his Week 6 performance that turned him into a household name.
The Steelers‘ coaching staff made several key adjustments shortly after that October loss. Gone was the ineffective outside-linebacker rotation, as Harrison and 2015 first-round pick Bud Dupree assumed every-down responsibilities the rest of the way.
Harrison set the tone early in Sunday’s victory, headlining a playmaking linebacker corps that includes the inside duo of Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier. That fearsome foursome accounted for 36 combined tackles, four sacks and eight total hits on Moore.
MIA D today: 6 pressures
James Harrison: 7 pressures
MIA D today: No player above 3 defensive stops
James Harrison: 8 defensive stops
â Gordon McGuinness (@PFF_Gordon)
January 8, 2017
“He is a peculiar leader because he’s somewhat unassuming and he doesn’t have a lot to say,” coach Mike Tomlin said of his 38-year-old star, “but his actions speak volumes.”
With Harrison channeling 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year form, a Pittsburgh pass rush that managed a league-low 13 sacks in the first 10 games leads the NFL with 30 since Week 11. While the offense’s acclaimed “Killer Bees” garner most of the hype, the defense ranks in the top five in every major category during the eight-game winning streak.
Harrison and his cohorts will take center stage in Kansas City next week, charged with containing the Chiefs‘ All-Pro tandem of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. If they treat Alex Smith the way they tossed Moore around on Sunday, it will go a long way toward advancing to the AFC Championship Game.