On the same day that Mike Wallace finally signed his franchise tender, the Steelers got more good news as they activated linebackers James Harrison and Jason Worilds off the PUP, 12 days before the start of the season. Because of this, there’s a very good chance that they’ll be able to be out there week 1. Harrison had knee surgery earlier this month, while Worilds has missed roughly 2 months with a wrist injury.
Harrison is obviously a huge part of the Steelers’ defense, with 9 sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and 26 quarterback pressures on 276 pass rush snaps last year, a rate of 16.7%.As tremendous as that rate is, it’s nothing new for Harrison, who had 38 sacks, 35 quarterback hits, and 99 quarterback pressures from 2008-2010 on 1208 pass rush snaps, a rate of 14.2%. One of the league most well rounded players, Harrison also drops into coverage and stops the run well.
He might be on a snap count to start the year, but Jason Worilds will be able to play in place of him well when he’s not on the field. Filling in when guys went down with injury last year, Worilds did his best Harrison impression, at least as a pass rusher, with 3 sacks, 7 quarterback hit, and 20 quarterback pressures on 204 pass rush snaps, a rate of 14.7%.
The Steelers managed just 35 sacks last season because both Harrison and Woodley missed time. As a result, Worilds had to play a lot, which wasn’t a problem, but Lawrence Timmons played awful moving from middle linebacker to outside linebacker. Timmons, ProFootballFocus’ highest rated middle linebacker in 2010, struggled mightily on the outside last year, especially as a pass rusher with just 2 quarterback hits and 1 quarterback pressure on 114 pass rush snaps in 4 starts, a pathetic 2.6% rate.
He almost definitely won’t have to play outside this year and the Steelers should be able to increase their sacks total led by the trio of Woodley, Harrison, and Worilds. Timmons playing 16 games inside will also help their defense, not like their defense needed a lot of help, as they allowed the fewest yards (4348) and fewest points per game (14.2) last year. They did that despite a league worst 15 interceptions, a number that history suggests will improve. Their defense will be fine. The Steelers have had one of the three best defenses, in terms of points per game allowed, 6 times since 2004. Not so coincidentally, those were the same 6 seasons they had 10+ wins. They should be able to do that this season again.
Injuries on offense are the bigger issue. Isaac Redman said he could be limited all year with groin and hip problems and could struggle. Rashard Mendenhall, meanwhile, is just 8 months removed from tearing his ACL and is unlikely to be able to go until October at the earlier. David DeCastro, who they were counting on to be their right guard, recently tore his MCL and could be done for the season, while fellow rookie Mike Adams has really struggled this preseason. There’s also the issue of Mike Wallace having missed the entire preseason.
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