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Harrison's return a big boost to Steelers defense

Associated Press Modified: October 3, 2012 at 5:32 pm •  Published: October 3, 2012
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PITTSBURGH (AP) — LaMarr Woodley says it's not so much the double teams, or the chip from a running back, or even the way an opposing offense might shift its protection scheme to his side of the field.

The absence of fellow former All Pro Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison has had a much less tangible effect on Woodley.

"I really can't tell as far as, like, the protection schemes," Woodley said.

But make no mistake. Like the rest of the 1-2 Steelers, Woodley is ecstatic that Harrison is on track to make his season debut Sunday when the Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) come to Pittsburgh.

Harrison practiced fully on Wednesday, and all indications are he will be on the field chasing Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.

"He definitely makes a difference," Woodley said of Harrison. "Then, (offenses) kind of have to pick their poison."

Long known as Blitzburgh under coordinator Dick LeBeau because of its reputation for racking up sacks, the Steelers defense has only five of them through three games. Harrison might not be a cure-all, but he certainly can't hurt for a game some Steelers are already calling a "must-win."

"James is a great, great player," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "When he's out there, he's definitely a difference-maker for us. Teams have to account for him and possibly have to double-team him. It creates opportunities for others."

The player who would figure to most benefit is Woodley, who has averaged .83 sacks per game (counting playoffs) over the past four-plus seasons. Woodley has had one sack in each of the past two games out of his customary left outside linebacker position, but Harrison's replacements on the other side haven't come close to matching his sack production. Harrison has 58 sacks and needs two more to tie Joey Porter for second on the franchise career list; Chris Carter and Jason Worilds have combined for one sack this season.

It's a big reason why the defense that had ranked in the top three of the NFL in six of the previous eight years has plummeted to 21st four weeks into this season.

"We've had opportunities to get sacks and missed a few, so it's just about taking advantage of what you get and when you get your hands on a quarterback, getting him on the ground," Keisel said.

That simple task figures to be as difficult as it will be all season for the Steelers on Sunday with the speedy, elusive Vick in town. Vick is the NFL's all-time leading rusher for a quarterback, so pursuing him isn't as simple as it is with a traditional, plodding pocket passer.

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