James Harrison: Dick LeBeau not responsible for decline of Steelers defense
October 17, 2014 12:00 AM
Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer throws a touchdown pass to Jordan Cameron as he's defended by Steelers' James Harrison in the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland Sunday afternoon, October 12, 2014.
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
James Harrison, once the ringleader of one of the most-feared defenses in the NFL, has a message for those who think the Steelers defense is outdated and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has lost his touch.
They are wrong.
“I hear coach LeBeau, a lot of people say he’s too old,” Harrison said. “That’s bull. The defense works. Players have to play the defense. Period. It’s on the players.”
Just three games after he returned as a backup outside linebacker, Harrison is not only annoyed at suggestions the Steelers need to change their style of defense; he is bothered by comments made by two former team members — coach Bill Cowher and wide receiver Hines Ward — that the defense is “soft.”
That prompted Harrison, a five-time Pro Bowler, to stand up for the defensive system the Steelers have employed for years and the man responsible for orchestrating its schemes.
“The scheme is the same, the calls are the same,” Harrison said. “The defense works. It’s been proven that it works for years and years. The defense has always been ranked in the top nine or 10 since coach LeBeau got here, except for the last year and now. The only thing that changes is the players.”
But Harrison didn’t stop there. The more he talked about the defense and LeBeau, the more emphatic he became.
“Let’s be plain and honest, let’s cut out all the bull — it’s about you dominating your man, period,” he said. “That’s all there is to it. That is what Aaron Smith did. That’s what Casey Hampton did. That’s what they did. They dominated.”
The Houston Texans (3-3) come to Heinz Field Monday night with a dominating player — end J.J. Watt, the 2012 NFL defensive player of the year. Harrison was one of those in 2008 when he set a team record with 16 sacks and was regarded as the meanest player in the league.
That Steelers defense led the league in fewest yards allowed, pass defense and points per game, and finished second in rush defense. The unit propelled the Steelers to a 12-4 season and a Super Bowl victory against the Arizona Cardinals.
“Everyone wants to compare this defense to the 2008 defense,” Harrison said. “You can’t compare those two defenses. You can’t compare 2008 to any of our defenses we had. You had a whole different group of guys.”
Harrison is not blind to what is happening, and admitted it’s tough to watch.
The defense has allowed 10 pass plays of 30 yards or longer and six runs of 20 yards or longer in six games — numbers that rank near the bottom of the NFL.
They also have allowed more points (139) than 12 of the 16 teams in the AFC, though the Steelers rank in the top half of the NFL in total defense (12th), rushing (15th) and passing (10th).
But to someone who has performed at a high level for nine years in that defense, Harrison doesn’t see anything wrong conceptually or with the schemes used by LeBeau, 77, who has been the defensive coordinator since 2004.
Nonetheless, it bothered Harrison when Cowher and Ward referred to the defense as “soft” after its embarrassing performance in Cleveland.
“It bothers me because they’re calling us soft,” Harrison said. “I understand [why they said it], but we’ve got different players now than we did before. Right now, we’re learning what players can do and what players can’t do, and we’ll have to go from there.”
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