James Harrison enjoys hitting people, but he hasn’t been able to do it for nearly a month. Hitting other humans is not a wise decision when a bone around your eye is broken.
The Steelers always need Harrison, but their burning desire to have a behemoth in their defensive backfield escalated this weekend when LaMarr Woodley injured his hamstring against the Patriots. Woodley’s injury isn’t serious, and he’s said that he fully intends to be healthy and ready for another rivalry game against the Ravens in Week 9. But having the anchor of a pass rush hobbled and playing with little support isn’t an ideal situation heading into a critical divisional game with Baltimore only one game back of the Steelers in the AFC North.
That could be a problem, but likely for just one more week.
Earlier today Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette spoke to Harrison’s agent, and Bill Parise told him that Harrison will return this week “unless something happens.” Well, something happened, and that something has extended Harrison’s stint on the sidelines for one more game.
The Steelers have still maintained a scary pass rush despite Harrison’s absence with 20 sacks overall, and most of the credit for that goes to Woodley. The 26-year-old All-Pro has nine sacks, putting him in a tie for third in the league, and 7.5 of those sacks have come over Pittsburgh’s last four games.
However, getting to the quarterback isn’t a concern for Pittsburgh this week against Baltimore, a long-held rival that was the first team to identify a major weakness in the Steelers’ run defense back in Week 1. That’s when Ray Rice finished with 107 yards and a touchdown on the ground against a defense that had held him to 170 yards combined over the previous four meetings between the two teams.
Since that game opposing teams have copied the zone-blocking scheme used by the Ravens, which has led to the steep run defense regression in Pittsburgh, and a unit that’s allowed over 35 more rushing yards per game this year than in 2010.