Tomlin Says Playing James Harrison Wouldn’t Have Fixed Run Defense Woes

It took 26 minutes until Mike Tomlin got a football question, an afternoon that was focused on mostly anything but the game. But the final question he fielded from reporters revolved around a question many Pittsburgh Steelers’ fans wondering after Sunday’s loss. Where was James Harrison?

Ultimately, Tomlin said having Harrison out there or not wouldn’t have made a big difference.

“I don’t know if it was specifically the outside linebacker position that was viewed as an issue in that game,” Tomlin said at today’s press conference. “And James speaks to the outside linebacker position. Largely, we gotta do a better job of minimizing the run. I’m not singling out any position and I think a a discussion about his participation or his non-participation does that.”

Harrison wound up playing just three snaps in the loss to the Chicago Bears. One was a run play, a botched snap to QB Mike Glennon. The other two were passes where Harrison dropped into coverage. As Keith Butler has tended to do during his time as defensive coordinator, he repeatedly sent just a three man rush at the immobile quarterback he was facing.

Of course, the focal point here is the run defense. Pittsburgh gave up 220 yards on the ground. It’s the third time in the last 14 games the Steelers have allowed as much. It only happened to Dick LeBeau once in his 13 year career as Steelers’ DC, 2007 versus Jacksonville.

But that doesn’t fall all on one position. And as Dave Bryan has pointed out, and Tomlin sorta affirmed this afternoon, it’s hard to find plays where it’s clear the outside linebackers were at fault. Largely, Tomlin said, the run defense was a product of bad tackling.

“There’s going to be a hole a time or two, especially when you’re as well prepared as those guys…usually, those plays are minimized with good tackling. Those are six to eight yard gains you might see from time to time. Really our biggest issue in those instances, there were several instances, we weren’t good tacklers. Those holes became field flipping plays. 26 yard gains, 40 yard gains and so forth.”

By the second half, the Steelers had settled things down and bottled the Bears’ run game up. Overtime was a different story. Chicago reeled off three runs of 15+ yards, including the game-winner, in OT. As far back as data goes, from Pro Football Reference since 1994, that’s never happened to a Steelers’ defense before.

While Chickillo may not have been directly at fault for some of the breakdowns, asking him and Bud Dupree to play such a high volume of snaps is a curious decision. They only had three plays off on a day where temperatures neared 90 degrees. Giving them a breather couldn’t have hurt. The first thing that goes when a player gets tired is technique. And technique was something the Steelers’ sorely lacked in the loss.

About the Author

Alex Kozora
Full-time blogger from mom's basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.