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Steelers turning LB James Harrison into a closer


The only thing that has gone precisely according to plan this year for Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin? The situational usage of outside linebacker James Harrison, who was unleashed down the stretch of Sunday's upset win over the previously undefeated Chiefs (5-1).

"I told you guys we were going to play (James Harrison) and you see why," Tomlin told reporters, via

About a month ago, Tomlin was facing questions about Harrison's absence. His snaps were cut back over the first half of the season in 2016 but the rollback was far more drastic in 2017 thanks in part to the quick emergence of rookie TJ Watt and the strong early season play of Anthony Chickillo.

Harrison got 15 snaps on Sunday, logging three tackles (one for loss) a sack and two QB hits in that short period of time. Harrison's sack of Alex Smith forced a fourth-and-18 on a potential game-winning drive. Instead, Pittsburgh (4-2) pinballed through another week with a victory.

This is one of the rare times a coach can have his cake and eat it too. Tomlin wants to develop his young defensive players but also wants to maximize what he has left in the 39-year-old former All-Pro. Harrison is fiercely loyal to Tomlin, and he seems to be fine executing a strategy that may have cut his snaps in half.

With the 37-year-old Dwight Freeney having popularized this "closer" role in recent years with Arizona and Atlanta, I wonder if Harrison's success will motivate a contending team to sign the free agent and install something similar to what Pittsburgh is doing now. While it is a roster spot luxury, considering you'll get little to no special teams help in return, Sunday's game shows how valuable a well-timed sack from a fresh player off the bench can be.