2 Insights Revealed by Mike Tomlin Starting James Harrison over Jarvis Jones

If you’re a citizen of Steelers Nation and your register a pulse, you know that Mike Tomlin has promoted James Harrison to the starting rotation at outside linebacker at Jarvis Jones expense.

James Harrison, Mike Tomlin, starting James Harrison

Mike Tomlin and James Harrison leave the field following the ’15 Steelers loss to the Seahawks. Photo Credit: Stephen Brashear, Getty Images

Football is a young man’s game and anytime a 26 year old gets jerked in favor of a 38 year old, the career prospects of the 26 year old are dimming fast. Steel Curtain Rising holds no ill will for Jarvis Jones and has in fact been rooting for him to prove the naysayers wrong. And, if he’d failed pressure the passer in any meaningful way, Jarvis Jones had made strides and was making himself known in the running game.

But the Steelers loss to the Cowboys made a couple of facts unmistakably clear:

  • Anthony Chickillo and James Harrison are the Steelers best (healthy) outside linebackers
  • Jarvis Jones whiffed on the most important play of the season

Immediately after the game, a number of commentators singled out Jarvis Jones as the main culprit on Ezekiel Elliot’s 32 yard scamper. That was hard to see from the conventional angles, but this shot posted by Steel Dad is revealing:

The Steelers defense suffered multiple breakdowns on this play starting with but not limited to Ryan Shazier slipping. One might also ask why Keith Butler left the middle of the field so completely open. But Jarvis Jones had the primary responsibility for protecting the gap that Ezekiel Elliot shot through.

All NFL coaches talk a good game about “Keeping the top 53 and starting the best 22,” and Mike Tomlin is no different. But the truth is that all coaches sometimes sacrifice on the field production in the name of player development.

  • 1st, in starting James Harrison, Mike Tomlin is signaling that Jarvis Jones no longer gets preference in the pecking order because of his draft status.
  • 2nd, by starting James Harrison, Mike Tomlin is affirming his commitment to fielding players that give the Steelers the best chance to win.

When asked about the issues afflicting the floundering 2016 Steelers, Mike Tomlin’s “Popcorn” response got panned by the critics. But the truth is that Mike Tomlin doesn’t have many options available to him to jump start the defense. Unlike Bill Cowher in 1995, he can’t simply bench Alvoid Mays, move Carnell Lake to cornerback and start Myron Bell at safety.

But shifting James Harrison to the 1st rotation at outside linebacker at the expense of Jarvis Jones was one move Tomlin had open to him. He is wise to make that move.

On Sunday against the Browns we’ll see if it makes a difference.

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