Head-to-head: Steelers LT Kelvin Beachum vs. Bengals LB James Harrison
December 14, 2013 8:58 PM
The Bengals' James Harrison pauses during warmups before their game against the Steelers earlier in the season.
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
James Harrison delivered his version of his amazing Super Bowl interception return for a touchdown with the Cincinnati Bengals, and it had the same incredulous effect on his teammates and coaches.
Two differences: This return was for 21 yards against the Cleveland Browns, not 100 yards against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.
And this one didn't count.
Harrison's interception return against the Browns last month was negated by an illegal block penalty, but not before the former Steelers linebacker bounced off his own teammates and ran through two Cleveland linemen into the end zone. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis called it "an Earl Campbell run."
Even though the touchdown didn't count, his teammates were so inspired, they ran off 31 unanswered points to come back and beat the Browns, 41-20.
Harrison hasn't made many big plays with the Bengals, not like he did with the Steelers, but he is playing more and having more of an impact than he did earlier in the season.
"He probably doesn't have as much production as he probably wishes he had," Lewis said. "But he's doing a really valuable job in there."
Harrison wasn't used a lot early in the season with his new team and, when he was, it was in a much different manner than with the Steelers. Instead of lining as the weakside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, the Bengals used Harrison on the other side in a 4-3 front with the Bengals, rarely having him rush the passer.
And he came out of the game in sub packages, something he never did with the Steelers, significantly limiting his playing time. That's why Harrison played only 14 snaps in his first meeting against his former team in Week 2.
"They're trying to get him on the field more in sub packages," said tight end Heath Miller. "I know early in the year he was just playing in base and a lot of teams were playing three wides, so he wasn't getting as much opportunities as they would like or he would like. They're figuring out ways to get him on the field more."
The Bengals needed to make adjustments in the defense when Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins sustained a season-ending injury Oct. 31 against the Miami Dolphins. And one of the ways they looked to sustain their pressure was to play Harrison more -- and similar to how he played with the Steelers.
Harrison has played 57 and 53 snaps in two of the past three games and gone back to lining on the right side as a stand-up rusher. He has only two sacks, but nine of his 13 hurries have come in the past four games.
"They utilize him a lot more, especially where he's more comfortable -- on our left side," said right tackle Marcus Gilbert.
That means Harrison will line against left tackle Kelvin Beachum, who is expected to start after missing last week's game against the Miami Dolphins.
"He can set the edge, he can get after the passer, he can disrupt the middle," Miller said. "So they're certainly playing to his strengths. That's good for him, not for us."
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