Known for a tandem of linebackers that would scare even the fiercest of quarterbacks, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been terrorizing offenses since the early 1970s. Somehow the Steelers have found a way to duplicate this anomaly by always having the instincts to pick the best linebackers in the draft and develop them in to fearless warriors. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are two linebackers in the lineage of Jack Lambert, and deserve to be considered as the best linebacker tandem in football.
Woodley is young and cocky, but he produces results on the football field. In his first season as a starter on the left side, Woodley recorded 11.5 sacks and finished the season by becoming the first player in NFL history to go four straight playoff games (dating back to the loss to the Jaguars in the previous season) recording multiple sacks. This helped to catapult the Steelers to another Super Bowl victory in 2009. In fact, it could be argued that without James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, there is a good chance the Steelers lose that Super Bowl.
More clearly in the lineage of Jake Lambert is the other side of this vicious duo, James Harrison. After a rough childhood in which he was more known as a troubled young man than a great football player, Harrison ended up being drafted by the Steelers as a free agent in 2002. Because of his on and off-field antics in high school, major college programs lost interest in Harrison, leaving him to go play football at Kent State, the alma mater of Jack Lambert. Like Lambert, who most teams thought was too skinny to make an impact on the field, most teams found James to be too short (6 ft) and too skinny (240lbs) to make a big impact on the field. After multiple training camps, eventually he was signed by the Steelers.
He bounced around after that, going from team to team, playing for the Bills and then being cut by them and then was again signed by the Steelers in 2004 and remained on the team until today. Slowly earning a starting spot, it wasn’t until the Steelers released Joey Porter in 2007 that he really started to make a splash. In 2008, Harrison broke the Steelers team record for sacks originally set by Mike Merriweather by sacking opposing QBs 16 times.
The dynamic duo of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley combined that year to record 27 1/2 sacks, another team record.
So you have the stats, but lets talk about the intangibles. Those little things that make these guys the best and most feared linebackers, because we know quarterbacks aren’t looking at their stats. When opposing QBs think about facing the Steelers, I’m sure all their doing is thinking back to that time when Silverback nearly killed him with a sack/strip, or the time he was sandwiched between #56 and #92. Intimidation is one thing these guys excel at. In a way, Harrison is a mysterious dude. He emerged out of nowhere in the NFL to have a brilliant career. He talks about hurting people, not injuring them. He’s known for knocking people out of games with his vicious style of play. All this mystery adds to his intimidation factor. And then there is Woodley, who commands respect in the playoffs. He’s statistically one of the greatest linebackers in playoff history. Of course, it helps that other teams are double-teaming the unstoppable Silverback.
I’ve said this before on this blog and I’ll say it again. The NFL is literally changing the rules of the game because of one guy’s domination. James Harrison has the ability to single-handedly take over a game and league officials only want that power in the hands of a quarterback. Who knows? Maybe they think offense sells more tickets. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather watch a Steelers/Ravens game than a Colts/Chargers game. It’s not even a contest. In fact, when Vick had that ridiculous game last season where he threw for like a million yards and rushed for a million and just blew out whoever they were playing by like 50 points, I actually turned the game off and went to bed. Seriously. It was boring.
We’re just lucky the Steelers don’t play that kind of football. With James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley lurking in the corner, there is always sure to be some kind of exciting defensive play about to hit. We know that, and so do opposing offenses. It’s why they’re the best linebacker duo in football.
The future of this linebackers core is looking pretty bright as well with a couple of my favorite young players on the Steelers waiting in the wings. We have yet to see any decline of play from James Harrison so talking about his retirement is pre-mature, but these guys are worth looking at.
Stevenson Sylvester and Jason Worilds, selected in the 5th and 2nd rounds of the 2010 draft, have shown much promise in the linebacker arena. On special teams, they have both been dynamic players, making plays all over the field and refraining from committing stupid penalties like so many young special teamers do. Particularly Sylvester has been most impressive thus far, and I am excited to see where these guys fit in to the mix in the coming years. With Lawrence Timmons at ILB in the mix too, we’re sure to have a strong linebacker core for many years to come.