Harrison delivers more than sacks for Steelers
During the past 2 1/2 years, James Harrison has 32 1/2 sacks.
If you ask Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to list his All-Pro linebacker's most impressive plays, he remembers — and not one of them includes pressuring, hurrying, hitting or sacking the quarterback.
Instead, they all have something to do with when he does something other than rush the passer.
"I can think back to the past three years to at least three or four great interceptions and the runs he has made after the interceptions," LeBeau said.
The one last February just before halftime of Super Bowl XLIII needs not to be mentioned as the most memorable, but LeBeau was just as impressed with one in 2005 when Harrison was a part-time player.
"He picked one off a couple of years ago in San Diego and jumped over a couple of would-be tacklers and ran 30 yards," LeBeau said. "That was impressive."
Then there was the one last year against the Chargers inside the 20-yard ,and the one the year before that against rival Baltimore on a Monday night.
"He can do it all," linebacker James Farrior said. "He does more than rush the quarterback."
That includes dropping into pass coverage. LeBeau found that out a while ago but is putting it to use more this year.
Through the first half of the season, LeBeau has asked Harrison to drop into coverage 59 percent of the time on first and second down. The Steelers' defensive coordinator unleashes the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year on the quarterback on third down nearly 80 percent of the time.
Harrison doesn't seem to mind either assignment.
"That's part of being a linebacker in Coach LeBeau's defense," Harrison said. "You have to be able to rush the passer and drop into coverage. That is part of the entire package."
Harrison is on pace to equal his 16 sacks from a year ago despite fewer opportunities to get to the quarterback.
It is no coincidence that eight out of the top 10 sack leaders in the NFL at the midway point are defensive ends, including Minnesota's Jared Allen.
"If (Harrison) rushed as many times as everybody else, he would have a lot more sacks," linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. "But we are asked to do more."
There have been games this year that LeBeau has asked Harrison to rush much more.
Harrison did not record sacks in the first two games. He dropped into coverage one more time than he rushed (38-37).
The next three games, which resulted in six sacks, Harrison rushed 95 times and dropped into coverage 29 times.
In fact, the four games Harrison was held without a sack, he rushed 55 percent of the time. In the four games that resulted in his eight sacks, he rushed on 71 percent of those downs.
"It is whatever Coach LeBeau wants me to do and whatever works for that game and that opponent," Harrison said. "There are certain times in a game that we may rush a little more, and other times we don't."
Harrison is fifth on the team with 39 tackles, has forced four fumbles and has a pair of pass defenses for the fifth-ranked defense in the league.
On Monday night against Denver, he lined up against Denver receiver Brandon Marshall on a couple of occasions in the slot. On other occasions, he has been matched up with San Diego tight end Antonio Gates and Chicago running back like Matt Forte.
Harrison, who is 6-foot, 242, has unique skills to be able to cover an array of different kinds of players -- some times during the same game.
"He can cover and he can get after the quarterback," linebacker Lawrence Timmons said.
Farrior broke into the league with the New York Jets as an outside linebacker but quickly found out that covering NFL tight ends, receivers and backs isn't easy.
"I don't play outside linebacker anymore, that's how tough it is," Farrior said.
Harrison found it tough early on, too. When he came into the league six years ago, he didn't do much more than rush the quarterback.
"The main thing with him is that he worked at it," Farrior said. "He worked at his craft. He worked harder than everybody at his position, and that is why he is one of the best right now."
And that's why he is called a complete player by his peers.
"He has always been a complete player to me," Woodley said. "Is there anything he can't do?"
Well, maybe long snap?
Through the first half of the season, Steelers linebacker James Harrison is on pace to duplicate his 2008 season, when he had a team-record 16 sacks. Harrison possibly could have more sacks if he wasn't asked to drop into coverage so much.
Opponent - Sacks - Assignment
Tennessee - 0 - Rush 19, Coverage 16
Chicago - 0 - Rush 18, Coverage 22
Cincinnati - 1 - Rush 31, Coverage 8
San Diego - 2 - Rush 29, Coverage 10
Detroit - 3 - Rush 35, Coverage 11
Cleveland - 0 - Rush 16, Coverage 13
Minnesota - 2 - Rush 32, Coverage 22
Denver - 0 - Rush 27, Coverage 13
In the four games Harrison was held without a sack, he rushed 80 times and dropped into coverage 64 times. In the four games that resulted in eight sacks, he rushed 127 times and dropped into coverage 51 times.