The news coming out of Steelers Central has been fairly quiet since the franchising of Starks. The biggest story has been the ongoing negotiations between the Steelers and James Harrison's agent and the likely loss of Bryant McFadden. The Steelers have clearly targeted Harrison as their top priority this off-season even though he has one year remaining on his contract. And why not? With Harrison and Lamarr Woodley attacking from the outsides, the Steelers have the best pass rushing duo in football. Before these two are done, they could be remembered as one of the greatest pass rushing duos in the history of the game.
Watching these two guys play reminds me a little bit of the infamous New York Sack Exchange of the early 80s when Jets' defensive ends Mark Gastineau and Joe Klecko seemed to take turns tormenting quarterbacks. But the duo of Woodley and Harrison, rushing from the linebacker position, might be even better.
Harrison is always thinking big play. He doesn't just go for the sack. Instead, he literally attacks the ball. If the quarterback somehow manages to cover the ball up, he defaults to just mauling the quarterback. And Woodley is proving to be a quick understudy. He also is perfecting the strip sack. Think about how many games these two guys literally took over this year and how often they combined for a big play. One of the most memorable was the sack by Harrison on Ravens' quarterback Joe Flacco in Steelers-Ravens Part I, which was scooped up by Woodley and returned for a touchdown resutling in a comlete momentum shift. In almost all of the Steelers' big wins, this duo played a huge part. The Steelers' secondary, which was arguably their best since at least the famed 1970s squads, benefitted from the speed with which these two close on the quarterback.
Because of these guys, I've taken to regular irrational outbursts at the TV as I yell "They're being held!" or "Call it!" at oblivious refs. Alas, they rarely hear me. I can't quite figure out why refs refuse to call holds on these two. They are held on play after play, with many of those holds turning into muggings. But, they almost never call it, although they finally did reach for their flags a few times during the Super Bowl. I guess they figure that it is unfair that offensive linemen have to block both these guys and are willing to cut them a little slack...sometimes a lot of slack.
Harrison and Woodley still have youth on their side. Woodley has only played two seasons. That is hard to believe considering he has eight sacks in only four playoff games. Harrison is a bit older (30) but does not have that much wear and tear on his body considering he has only started at linebacker for two years after replacing Joey Porter in 2007. Its hard to believe that he made his initial mark in the league as a special teams terror. These guys, if the Steelers can work out a deal with Harrison, will likely form one of the most feared pash rushing pairs in the league for at least five years.
So I hope the Steelers are able to work out a deal with Harrison to keep these guys intact. I don't want them to overpay for Harrison, but one of my favorite things about watching the 2008 Steelers was watching these two guys torment offensive linemen and quarterbacks. Even with Woodley tiring as the season wore on (until the playoffs), they were always a force to be reckoned with and they will likely only get better next year. I can handle another dose of that in 2009-2010.