Steelers' Harrison starting to look like old self again

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James Harrison made what is arguably the greatest play in Super Bowl history when he intercepted a Kurt Warner pass and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown as time in the second quarter expired in Super Bowl XLIII. If that is the play for which Harrison will be remembered most, it's not exactly an accurate depiction of his career.

While Harrison has always been an effective pass defender and owns five career interceptions, his signature way of creating turnovers has always been the strip-sack.

Harrison was up to his old tricks in the Steelers' 23-20 victory Sunday against the Ravens. Early in the fourth quarter, with the Steelers trailing by seven, Harrison came from behind and knocked the ball from Joe Flacco. Ziggy Hood recovered at the Baltimore 27, and the offense capitalized by scoring the tying touchdown on the ensuing drive.

It was the 27th time in his career that he forced a fumble, but his first this season.

It was vintage Harrison, and his teammates noticed.

"He's looking like James Harrison of old," linebacker Larry Foote said. "Every time he gets a sack coming around the corner, you see him strip the ball. Especially nowadays when you can't even hit the quarterback, you might as well try to take the ball from him instead of blasting him."

The Steelers have struggled this season creating turnovers. Harrison's forced fumble was just the team's 12th takeaway. With a healthier Harrison and the return of ball-hawking safety Troy Polamalu, the defense is hoping to generate more turnovers.

When it comes to the art of the strip-sack, Harrison has an elementary approach: "Swing as hard as you can at his arm," he said. "It's a simple thing. You just have to think to do it when you get there."

Harrison was in position to make that play because he is getting healthier. He missed the first three games of the season after arthroscopic knee surgery kept him from taking part in training camp.

Harrison and team doctors originally believed the injury would not require surgery when it was diagnosed in the spring, but when it did not heal through rehabilitation, the decision was made to remove some pieces of meniscus through surgery.

Harrison said he is not 100 percent healthy, but the knee is feeling better each week.

"It still hurts," Harrison said after practice Friday. "I come in to practice each week and try to work my way to get back to where I felt [before the injury]. I don't expect to be at 100 percent, but as long I keep getting a little bit better each Sunday, then that's fine."

The evidence says Harrison is getting better on the field, too. He had one sack in his first six games back, but has recorded one in each of the past three contests.

Sunday against the Chargers, Harrison can achieve something he has never done in his 11-year career: a sack in four consecutive games.

Harrison has 62 career sacks and in the past three weeks passed Keith Willis and Joey Porter for fourth place on the all-time sacks list in franchise history. He needs four more to tie Hall of Famer Joe Greene for third place.

"Some time ago, James turned the corner with his football conditioning," said defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. "He's been getting better every week. But I think he's playing at a very, very high level right now."

The sacks and turnovers are easy to pick out by the casual observer, but Foote said Harrison's impact on the running game might be more impressive. The run defense was not up to its usual standards early in the season, but it is now fifth in the league in rushing yards allowed.

"The last couple of weeks, he's pushing guys back more and more," Foote said. "You're starting to see teams not even running to his side. That left side is getting a lot of runs. That has a lot to do with him. He always dents the line of scrimmage in."

NOTES -- Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley will miss his third consecutive game against the Chargers with an ankle injury. Offensive lineman Mike Adams (ankle) and cornerback Ike Taylor (ankle) also will not play. ... Backup quarterback Byron Leftwich (ribs) is questionable. ... Receiver Antonio Brown (ankle), punter Drew Butler (illness), safety Ryan Clark (hip), offensive lineman Willie Colon (knee), receiver Jerricho Cotchery (ribs), running back Will Johnson (concussion), safety Troy Polamalu (not injury related), quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (right shoulder), receiver Emmanuel Sanders (shoulder) and receiver Mike Wallace (knee) all are listed as probable.

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Ray Fittipaldo: and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published December 8, 2012 5:00 AM


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