James Harrison's Eye Injury: Why the Steelers Should Be Worried

Brendan O'Hare@brendohareContributor IOctober 4, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 18:   James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts to sacking Tarvaris Jackson #7 of the Seattle Seahawks during the game on September 18, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Steelers defeated the Seahawks 24-0.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Well, James Harrison's exploding eye has officially set me into DEFCON 3 panic mode (not quite the Cuban Missile Crisis, but not quite calming. United States in the Yom Kippur War, essentially). Hopefully, the following words do not fall into the category of "bitchy ungrateful Steelers fan diatribe," but it most likely will. I apologize in advance, but not extensively.

The Harrison injury (officially a broken orbital bone around his right eye) is just typical of everything that has happened to the Steelers so far this season and sets in place a course of events that will greatly affect their already suffering defense. Think of it this way: James Harrison is the third most important player on the Steelers defense (of course, that is up for debate, but is just what I've observed in a decade of Steeler viewing). Only Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith are more important (naturally, Smith has a mid-foot sprain and may miss the next game).

Previously, the Steelers reacted to the loss of those two players the following ways. Polamalu's absence would lead to Pamplona-like rampage from opposing offenses. The loss of Smith allowed running backs to roam freely, and although they still wouldn't put up their usual numbers against a still stout Steelers defense, they were more of a factor than they usually would be.

So typically, the loss of Harrison would be only mildly debilitating and would not lead to the chaos that would ensue if Polamalu/Smith were missing. Unfortunately for the Steelers and my health, the defense this season is not as stable as those in years past. Two running backs have put up 100-plus in the first four games, and I don't think the Steelers have allowed that to happen since the Clinton administration. Arian Foster ran for more than 150 yards last Sunday, the first time anyone has done that since Priest Holmes did that in 2001.

The Steelers run defense, usually so refined and immovable, has been torn apart despite having most of their starters play. The only one who has consistently been above-average in run defense has been Harrison, and now he's gone. This will force Lawrence Timmons to play Harrison's spot and Larry Foote to fill in at middle linebacker for Timmons.

Now, the Timmons conundrum. Timmons is usually seen as the best all-around linebacker the Steelers have, or at least the most athletic. He has been getting torn apart in pass coverage this year and looks slow and gawky and is one of the primary reasons people are wondering "Is the Steelers defense getting old?" Timmons is 25.

Now, he is being replaced by Larry Foote, a much older player who is even slower than Timmons. You split a running back out and have him run a pattern against Foote? I just peed.

Timmons will now be double-teamed and taken out of the equation, just as Harrison was. Teams won't change their gameplan against Timmons, as he is just as good a football player as Harrison. So now, we have the Steelers best linebacker trapped, and the offense is allowed to roam free even though they were already doing that when the Steelers had their best 11 out on the field previously.

Harrison's injury is going to greatly affect this team if only because the Steelers defense isn't all that good. They are still brilliant enough to completely shut down definitions of mediocrity (Seattle Seahawks), but cannot physically beat teams with great offenses now. It sucks, and the offensive line is horrible. Ben walks around with a damn boot, and Mendenhall hates America. and Polamalu is one concussion away from becoming a squash, and Tomlin is going to have a peptic ulcer; I know it. And the Rooneys' granddaughter has a nipple ring in her new movie, and I am not calm.