Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison entered the playoff game against the Dolphins at the age of 38—and 249 days. Yet, aside from his dominant era in which he was consistently an All-Pro, capped off by a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2008, he is probably playing the best football of his career.
He finished the Wildcard game against the Dolphins with 10 total tackles, as well as a sack and a half, including a forced fumble inside the red zone that prevented Miami from potentially getting back into the game at the end of the first half.
Considering his age, what Harrison is doing on the field is awfully impressive. He is the oldest defensive player in the league, and among the very few oldest players period, and yet he is not only playing well, he is outperforming his younger competition. He started this season as a rotational player.
Jarvis Jones began the season as the Steelers’ starting right outside linebacker, and was recording the majority of the snaps, but that changed in the second half of the season. In large part simply due to Harrison’s performance, he leapfrogged Jones and began logging the majority of the snaps himself.
In the late stages of the season, in fact, he actually began logging virtually every snap—that is, until the final game of the regular season, because the Steelers played well enough to secure the third seed in the playoffs with no opportunity to help or hurt their playoff seeding.
Pittsburgh largely dominated the Dolphins during the Wildcard game, as well, which resulted in the coaching staff choosing to let Harrison sit. Jones ended up finishing the game, and even recorded a tackle and batted a pass down at the line of scrimmage.
Many of his plays were very impactful, in fact, and he was instrumental in bottling up Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi. His first three tackles were all against Ajayi, for gains of 0, -3, and 2 yards. In fact, every single one of his tackles went for a stop, including five plays for a loss or no gain, including his sack and a half.
Harrison has now recorded at least one sack in three consecutive playoff games, and with his sack and a half against Miami, is the second player in Steelers history to have at least 10 sacks in the playoffs. He now has 10, and LaMarr Woodley has 11.
By and large, the Steelers’ defense held Miami in check when the game was still competitive—outside of a few splash plays here and there. But with the turnovers and sacks, including the forced fumble from Harrison, the Dolphins had little chance.
The 12 points the Steelers allowed in the Wildcard Round is the 11th-fewest that they have ever allowed in a playoff game in nearly 60 games, and the fewest in over a decade. Harrison’s performance had quite a lot to do with their ability to keep the scoreboard in their favor.