Joey Porter: Harrison’s ‘Time Will Come’ In Cold Weather And In Playoffs

Outside linebacker James Harrison may be the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rarely-used ‘relief pitcher’ at the position this season—he has only played a couple dozen snaps to date through the halfway point—but he is not finding much relief in his lack of playing time.

That is not overly concerning to his position coach—and former teammate—Joey Porter, who is only about two years older. “He understands the process, and we know he’s not always going to be happy”, he told Joe Rutter yesterday. “I know he’s going to be frustrated at times because he wants to play”.

Harrison has only seen snaps in four of the team’s eight games this season. He was even inactive for two of them. In two others, he dressed but did not play. That included Sunday’s game in Detroit against a neophyte at left tackle making his first start.

Porter said that the Steelers liked the matchup between Lions tackle Brian Mihalik and T.J. Watt just fine. He said that Matthew Stafford was getting the ball out very quickly, and was able to find a few escape lanes, when he was asked if Harrison would have made much of a difference.

He also pointed out that Harrison doesn’t really fit, overall, what the Steelers are looking for at this point of the season at the position—but that his time will come.

“T.J. is 22. James is 39”, stating the obvious in pointing out the significant age difference. “Having him out there covering, that ain’t what he’s doing right now. That’s not his strong suit”. The rookie Watt has been spending a considerable portion of his snaps on passing downs dropping into coverage, more than anybody I’m aware of anticipated.

“[Harrison’s strong suit is when we get to this cold weather and someone is going to try to come here and run the ball, I can put him in there and (running) isn’t going to happen”, Porter said of the man who replaced him in the starting lineup in 2007.

“We get into the cold and playoff time, I can have him in those tough situations and go rush the quarterback and get a sack because the situation is not too big for him”. He added, “it’s frustrating right now, but his time will come when we’re going to need him”.

This isn’t all too terribly shocking, but one has to wonder exactly what he has only averaged about seven snaps in even the four games in which he has played. Are they really doing so many things that don’t suit his strengths that they are not playing him?

Are they really simply holding him in reserve in order to prevent him from wearing out late in the season, as many are inclined to believe? Is it about allowing Watt to establish himself, while the fact that they have been winning has largely made the point moot?

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Bob Russak

    I find it very disrespectful that a player of Deebo’s ability is not used more. That nonsense of “saving him” for later doesn’t fly. Even at age 39, 10-12 snaps a game in crucial situations will not wear out this monster. Cut the crap and play him. TJ could learn a lot more by watching the master at work.

  • You care kidding yourself if you think TJ can learn more by watching than playing.


    I personally think there is wisdom in conserving him (even though he could probably bench press ALL our rookies if they hung them on the end of a bar!) but agree that playing him EACH game on a pitch count as you suggest makes sense.
    I mean, it’s a lot to ask of even a vet to come in ‘cold’ and perform at peak efficiency!

  • Dshoff

    “He said that Matthew Stafford was getting the ball out very quickly, and was able to find a few escape lanes, when he was asked if Harrison would have made much of a difference.” That’s just an excuse and a lie; he wasn’t getting the ball out that quickly. And what does escape lanes have to do with Harrison not doing well?

  • ImMikeD

    The coaches may be anticipating Watt hitting the “rookie wall” and having a fresh vet to come in. I can see this scenario playing out quite well for the Steelers for next year having Watt with a boat load of experience, and a fresh monster this year come the playoffs

  • Ichabod

    So Watt does little as far as QB pressures but we can’t use James for a couple of series because Porter thinks Watt matched up well?
    Sounds more like BS than sound game planning

  • I had a similar thought as well.

  • This is a double edge sword. The coaching staff is wrong to keeping 92 on ice until later in the season. But if they played him now and he ran out of gas by playoff time then they were wrong as well.

    It doesn’t matter what they do, someone is butt hurt over it.

    Meanwhile, completely neglecting the fact that he is earning valuable playing experience. TJ also dropped into coverage a ton against the Lions.

  • Steeldog22

    I think this is exactly the case. James will be fresh and play more down the stretch when Watt is bumping up against it. Love me some Deebo but you have to let the season play out to see what they’re really up to. Plus, it’s not like they’d be subbing James for Jarvis – it is Watt (though from time to time I’d like to see them flip Watt to play with James and take out Bud).

  • Steeldog22

    Yep. If Deebo and Watt were both gassed and/or hurt by playoff run, people would be calling for heads to roll on how stupid they were not to save the 39 year old for when they really needed him. The coverage aspect is a significant factor, which Watt seems to do very well.

  • Charles Mullins

    He didn’t look to cold against KC. I he has a 6 game season as far as I see it. They will start to take the bubble wrap off down the stretch. If you look at it from the macro level they are managing him beautifully. There is an argument that could be made that we would be 8-0 if he played against the teams that thrashed us with the run, but he is going to be catching his stride right when games are 1 and done. Ill take it. He should be pissed off to. That is also a bonus. If he retires on a three sack super bowl performance he gets the jacket.

  • Charles Mullins

    Yup same thoughts. Bud will be the rotational player. They have already played with flipping sides earlier this season. Three man rotation with James anchoring the right. I wouldn’t be surprised to see JH, TJ and Bud all on the field at the same time either in pass situations. TJ has been playing that middle dropp well. Its gotta be hard to throw around him with his length and vert.

  • NCSteel

    I really have no problem with what was said,
    more who was saying it.

    I do not think Joey is someone who should be coaching young men.

    I just don’t. I won’t waste your time by spelling out the why’s, likewise, don’t waste your time trying to convince me I am incorrect. You will not.

  • ryan72384

    I think it’s a great idea. He played the closer role against KC. Came in and destroyed the pocket a couple times and got a huge 3rd down sack. Keep the guy as fresh as possible. Like Joey said we may need him if someone wants to run the ball 40 times against us or he may just be called on again for some 4th quarter passrush. Hell if I was taking someone off the field to get Harrison some snaps it would be Bud not TJ. I swear with all the weight he lost and seeing him run up the arc on passrushes and then lose his footing last week a couple times he looked like Jarvis Jones.

  • Nick Sabatella

    Still don’t get why we’d put in moats AND chickillo over James though…

  • AndyR34

    Yes…I’m sure he prevented Stafford from throwing for 425 yards because his coverage skills were so effective. (sarcasm)

  • AndyR34

    Here is the salient question…one that Porter can’t answer.

  • Darth Blount 47

    2 points…

    1st, I can think of a few games where the quote by Porter about Harrison shutting down an opposing run game like a beast, MAY HAVE JUST COME IN FREAKIN’ HANDY! But I digress…

    2nd, the whole concept of Deebo running his tank dry by playing a handful of snaps every single game, is completely laughable when you think about it. Oh sure, for a NORMAL human being at age 39, it would be a concern. But not for a cyborg. I understand letting TJ learn on the job and we are winning and he drops a lot. That’s why I’m not advocating for a 50-50 split or anything. But let Watt play his, maybe shift over to the other side as we have now seen he can do that just fine, and let Deebo eat at the table more than say, never a game.

    Anytime you are bringing in Moats or Chick, and Deebo has a helmet and jersey on and is active, we should ask ourselves… “Who gives us the better chance to stop the run and rush the QB?” Harrison is not as big a liability in dropping into coverage, if he only had to do it a few times a game at most. Especially not in a very short zone. I recall that turning out well for us a time or two in the past, anyway. 🙂

  • Matthew Marczi

    Keep in mind that Watt drops into coverage about 40% of the time.

  • PaeperCup

    Stafford played a good game, and did a good job ridding the ball quickly. When there was pressure he found his way out of it. I guess the argument being made is that even if Harrison was in there, doing well, Stafford would still be getting the ball out quickly and still would be finding his way out of trouble.

  • PaeperCup

    Just wait until Watt gets gassed because Harrison wasn’t there to spell him, you want to see heads roll!?!

    Who am I kidding, he’s a Watt, the only thing that will slow him down is an injury. Aside from that I bet he can play 30 games without missing a beat


    I think you are correct – they are managing him well.
    His value as a pass rusher in my mind is even greater than his inestimable value vs the run.
    Watt is a rookie, and even though he is cut from the same cloth as JJ, rookies hit the infamous ‘rookie wall’. So having the all time team sack leader available is wisdom!!

  • Charles Mullins

    See if someone wants to trade for Moats 🙂

  • treeher

    Bottom line is we’re 6-2 and our position wouldn’t be that much improved if we were 8-0, at least not at this point. If we can’t beat the Hateriots, then it will make a difference. But I agree with others that Harrison needs more snaps. I don’t think Watt and DuP are doing such a great job that they can’t take a couple series off and watch our resident robocop do his thing.

  • Ichabod

    Yes I understand that. But that doesn’t mean Harrison can’t play at all. If that was the only reason, then he won’t be playing “when it’s cold” or in the playoffs. I love Watt and was/am glad we got him. Still don’t understand Harrison getting zero snaps when the seemed to be little pressure from OLBs. If the plan was to always drop the OLBs and not rush them, it didn’t work to the tune of over 400yds.

  • Ichabod

    have to agree with you…once in the past he dropped into coverage and returned an interception 100 yds. If there is no place for him now, why would there be a place on the field for him “in the cold” or during the playoffs. I think the only reason they are keeping him is for insurance against injury.

  • SeventhHeavan

    Porter is still bitter about Deebo taking his job back in the day that sent him packing to Miami. NO question!

  • SoCal Steeler

    I’m calling bullcrap. In no way, shape or form is 8-10 plays a game going to wear out Deebo for the stretch run. Even my wife was constantly asking why wasn’t Harrison playing at all on Sunday. Man, he would have eaten Mihalik alive. A couple of timely sacks by Deebo and we wouldn’t have all been on the edge of our seats in the 4th quarter.
    I’m not saying not to give T.J. most of the work but c’mon Porter get your head out of your butt already.

  • MC

    Well then steelers need to get more commanding leads so that opponents are forced to pass and James can pin his ears back.

    What doesn’t make sense however is games like bears and Jags where their run game was their strength and continued to go with the ground game, why wasn’t Harrison inserted more in those?

    I don’t like the idea of taking watt off the field because I think he makes plays no other LB on this roster can make but Dupree isn’t helping this team at all. It baffles me why Dupree hasn’t been replaced by Watt who has position flexibility and then Deebo brought into his usual side.

    This is the same guy who took far too long in giving the position back to Deebo after the failed Jarvis experiment in which we all saw early on. After that, the defense thrived. What is with this coaching staff and stubbornness. I don’t think i’m going to get over us missing out on Kevin Greene as the LB coach.

  • MC

    It seems that way which is just worrying. Hopefully Butler overrides this cr*p at some point.

  • MC

    Dupree is doing absolutely nothing. I completely agree with moving Watt over to his side and bringing in Harrison more.

  • Brenton deed

    Dupree has been quietly improving… but yes there is some validity about what you wrote.

  • Brenton deed

    They could also be protecting him from injuries (little niggling ones) because at his age recovery time is much longer. It’s often said that by season’s end many players are playing hurt from “wear and tear” and with a longer recovery time Deebo may fizzle out if they load him up too early.

  • MC

    I just don’t see it. I key on him all the time because in the off season he was the one who I thought would breakout the most this season but he’s thoroughly disappointed me. Far too many times he doesn’t win with the speed rush he is completely taken out of the play unless another defender force the QB into him. I am yet to also see him attempt a power move on a tackle.

  • Brenton deed

    I see what you see but it’s not as bad as it was… before he was pushed yards up the arc by the tackle in Detroit he was regularly only a yard or so away. That was also the QB stepping up but, I agree he’s got to get there.
    The issue is: is he all speed and no power or has he got power and hasn’t learnt how to use it? Time will tell.

    T J Watt has surprised me with his power. I thought he might be lacking but he seems to have everything you want. He’s not scarily good at anything but he’s got no weaknesses. Time will tell if he settles into a good competent pro or develops his existing skills/abilities into “scary” and becomes a great – not bad for a rookie.

  • will

    That “neophyte at left tackle making his first start” did okay for himself.

  • Jason Dock Dudley

    lol. ok you said your peace. Steeler nation thanks you for your input.

  • MC

    I think he has power but he’s too afraid to use it because that means having to take on a much bigger guy than him. Tackles know he has no inside threat so they kick back in preparation which is why he gets run up the arc too much. He’s faster than these guys, they just know whats coming which is why he is neutralized.

  • MC

    Agreed 100 percent about Watt though. He has great length in his arms and uses them well. If they get a good lead and can unleash him instead of dropping him, his sack/pressure numbers will increase.

  • NCSteel

    LOL !

  • Bob A.

    im sure James is having a hard time, too many limits during training camp, preseason, and now the season. He is the hardest worker, and must be biting at the bit for some playing time. I really like all of our OLB, but James can be a beast at times. Cant say thats true about most of them.