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, fromĀ Pro Football ReferenceĀ 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.
  • Steel Realist PAul

    The defense was gassed as OT started. Putting in a few fresh legs couldn’t have hurt.

    And this week, we’ll see the Ravens do a lot of the same and likely with success. This Steelers team is currently reeling defensively.

  • dennisdoubleday

    Right, no coach on this team seems to understand the value of the occasional series off, least of all Mike “Run Him Till the Wheels Fall Off” Tomlin. Unfortunately, the wheels have been falling off prior to or during the playoffs.

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    Well it may not have fixed it, but it certainly would have helped.

  • cencalsteeler

    No safety/cb help to fill in that C gap.

  • srdan

    Not true. Last season the OLBs were complaining that they rotated too much.

    Only player he has done it to is Bell.

  • RMSteeler

    At least it wouldn’t have been worse.

  • Shane Mitchell

    The play in the photo is bad ILB play from Shazier, he is supposed to scrape and fill on this play, its not on Chickillo or any other OLB.

  • nutty32

    Strange to say about a Rookie, but we need TJ Watt back out there. He’s an excellent team defender who squeezes down lanes to proper angles.

  • treeher

    I think we have some of the worst on-field coaches in the league. We seem incapable of making adjustments. Offensively and defensively.

  • srdan

    Hard to argue in that way. It seems like they want to sell their team on “impose our will”. That is archaic.

  • Alex Kozora

    Shazier has the A gap on this play. He tried to cutback and make a play when Howard did but that’s a tough spot. There simply isn’t a C gap/alley defender assigned on this run. It happened several times.

  • Ichabod

    So…when will it be beneficial to put Deebo on the field

  • John

    Agree. We now have decent depth in certain places. Playing guys like Harrison, Moats, Big Dan, and others on a hot day when we have already given up large chunks of yardage on the ground only make sense. You get extra energy from them. You can keep the starters fresher. You can give slightly different looks. It is hard to believe we don’t do this. The same is true on offense. The lack of use of whatever backup RB we have had for a Bell makes no sense. We are bad at this and it hurts our team.

  • John

    Our best offense seems to continue to be when Ben can run the two minute drill and do what he wants. Anytime we try to set the tempo early with the running game or conservative plays we go nowhere. If the offense is good, it is supposed to get the ball at the beginning of the game and go directly down the field and score some points. If not the first drive, then the second.

  • nikki stephens

    This guy keeps digging and digging a hole. Mike T no person, no one over the 100’s of posts did I see someone claim 1 person would end the gashing. What we know is James Harrison’s legacy of work demonstrates a player who shut down many of the runs that gashed the ROLB position. We have seen with our own eyes a player for over a decade is as sure a tackler as there is and maintains supreme gap integrity. We, the fans also know you recognized that last year and swapped Jarvis Jones for Harrison after E Elliott embarrassed the D last year.

    So the question is why do you think the answer last year is any different than this year? And I am scared your such a stubborn ass that you purposely won’t put JH in at this point because your afraid that so many of may be proven right…… (I hope that accusation isn’t true, because then we have greater problems than any of us thought before the Chicago game)

  • nikki stephens

    Notice that by not giving JH a chance, we have no way of knowing if tomlin is right …he just says trust me this tuesday.

  • Shane Mitchell

    I know you think he has the “A”gap fill, but its wrong, Heyward was playing a 4i technique with A/B gap responsibility on the play, It is specifically to allow Shazier to fill/scrape as needed on the play, I can send you a diagram of the play with defensive assignments if you want., it would clear up the confusion.

  • Alex Kozora

    That’s what everyone told me about Shazier on the Zeke TD last year. That I had to be wrong. And I was right. Maybe some team plays it that way but not here. We have seen their flow vs zone runs before.

  • Shane Mitchell

    The assignments change for the weak side when they shift to an under front and expect a zone run. google search for “The Redskins New 3-4 Under Defense” in that article you will see what I am talking about in the diagram and paragraph titled defensive line.

    They are playing a hybrid type of alignment to try to keep Shazier protected as much as possible and let him make plays.

  • ryan72384

    VW and Shazier. Vince is never there and Shazier is either out of position, can’t get off a block or flies in and tackles air. Worse MLB pair we have had in a decade? Maybe longer. Oh and the play of our safeties really makes me miss the days of Troys run support. Where are all these plays at that I said Sean Davis would be making? I really talked him up in the off-season.

  • Alex Kozora

    I see it but you’re assuming they are running it the same way. Do you have examples of the Steelers running it? I haven’t seen it.

  • WeWantDaTruth

    How does this Bears O-line rank amongst those in the league? They dominated us like they were the best in the league. Why didn’t we focus on stopping the run and force the legendary Mike Glennon to beat us? SMH

  • Alex Kozora

    Look at the Fire X example I wrote about in the film room Monday. Heyward is one-gapping, shooting the B gap. Shazier has A gap responsibility on the blitz. On that play, who is the C gap/alley defender?

  • Shane Mitchell

    I looked at it, looks like Heyward shifted over a split second before the snap again to a 4i tech, he engaged with outside eye aligned with the inside eye of the OLinemen , he doesnt shoot the gap, he engages, reads the play then sheds and tries to make the tackle. Sean Davis was coming up in primary run support, and makes a typical Sean Davis type of read, sees the flow and decides to go in the opposite direction. He isnt a SS, he cant make reads, thats why there is no run support after Heyward misses the tackle. We dont have a real SS on the field this play.

  • Shane Mitchell

    They are switching it up because playing it as a straight gap run with the DE and ILB tied to the A and B gaps, is a bad scenario, thats the idea behind the zone run, they want the defense to 1 gap and the ILB to shoot the A gaps, because they are now easier to block and get caught in the wash of the zone. Thats the point of the weakside DE 2 gapping and the ILB roam/scrape behind the line, the cut back is supposed to be eliminated and if there is no cutback the weakside ILb isnt caught in the wash if the running back doesnt cut back. This is the point of shifting to the under front on certain downs when they are expecting a zone run. Shazier was just too hyped up the last play and over reacted, look at that play and if Shazier is a bit more disciplined this run goes nowhere.

  • Alex Kozora

    That’s my whole point. There is a C gap player (it failed, but that’s not my point). My point is that on that play, Heyward had the B gap, Shazier/VW the A gaps. So you don’t have the evidence to say that on one play, Heyward was two-gapping and Shazier had to scrape and on another, say that Davis didn’t have alley support. Look at the zone runs, look at the run fits, and Shazier has the A gap.

    Like I said, this is the same convo I had with people last year. People expected Shazier to scrape over the LT on Zeke’s TD run. But it wasn’t his fault. That got confirmed later in the week. We’re dealing with the same thing.

  • Alex Kozora

    If Shazier was really scraping over that play, he’s not taking any steps to the A gap. He’s scraping.

  • John Phillips

    So if bad tackling is the problem he’s saying Harrison can’t tackle ?

  • Shane Mitchell

    I guess we can agree to disagree, I thought what I showed you would clear up some confusion about the “C” gap and the weakside ILB assignment when they shift to the under front, the reason they are shifting is so they have a defender that can roam and fill to eliminate the cutbacks that have hurt them in the past out of different alignments against outside zone teams. The Steelers do make defensive adjustments it just takes them a long time to do it, and this adjustment would have worked if it was executed properly. I dont recall everything with the Elliot run last year, but lets say you were right, its your contention that the Steelers wouldnt make an adjustment to stop it in the future? The adjustment I am showing with the assignment changes and the shifting just before the snap?

  • Shane Mitchell

    He is scraping on the play, he is off the line and moving laterally.

  • treeher

    I hadn’t thought of it like that, but I think you’re exactly right.