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Play Of The Game: Harrison Key In Stopping Stretch Run In Steelers Win Over Colts

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Team Defense is a phrase often given to the Pittsburgh Steelers. While Sunday's 23-20 win over Indianapolis seemed to highlight more individual plays than team defensive dominance, the results were typical; a suffocated Colts offense had little success all night. 

Steelers OLB James Harrison was a big part of the reason why the Colts only had 241 total yards - 80 of those on their final drive. Harrison had a monster game in run support, and came up with the sack and forced fumble that nearly decided the game.

This is not that play. 

There was a play in the first quarter that showed not only Harrison's dominance, but some excellent team defense. 

Down, Distance and Situation

The Colts had the ball, 2nd and 10 from their 27 yard line. There's 10:50 left in the first quarter, Steelers leading 3-0 after a nice opening drive. 

It may not seem like it, but these plays were going to be critical for the Colts, if they wanted to have any success on offense against Pittsburgh. After gaining nothing on first down, they need to set up a manageable third down situation for their shaky pass offense, and establish some rhythm. 

Defensive Alignment

The Steelers are in their nickel package, with LDE Aaron Smith and RDE Ziggy Hood in three-point stances. LOLB LaMarr Woodley and ROLB Harrison are over the tackle's outside shoulders. CB Keenan Lewis is in press coverage on WR Reggie Wayne on the offensive left side, and CB Cortez Allen is playing off WR Pierre Garcon on the opposite side. SS Troy Polamalu is on Austin Collie, who is in the slot. FS Ryan Clark and CB William Gay are covering the deep halves. LBs James Farrior is on the weak side, and Lawrence Timmons is on the strong side (offensive left). 

Offensive Alignment

The Colts are in 3-wide, with TE Dallas Clark on the left side of the formation, next to LT Anthony Castonzo. RB Joseph Addai is the lone back behind QB Kerry Collins


At the snap, the Steelers immediately recognize what is going to be a staple play run against them this season. It's a stretch toss to Addai with the offensive line moving to its left. The intention is to open up seams behind the strength of the blocking scheme - a double-team on Harrison by Clark and Castonzo. 

Harrison takes on the double-team immediately, and gets into a low and powerful stance. Clark loses the edge to Harrison, giving him outside leverage on Castonzo. Because Clark lost that battle, he's standing in Addai's cut-back lane, and pushes off to pick up Timmons, who diagnosed the play perfectly from the start, and flowed to the outside, cutting off Addai from the sideline. 

Castonzo cannot contain Harrison at the point of attack one-on-one, and Harrison's leverage is too much. Harrison won the line of scrimmage, and is ready to take Addai on. 

Meanwhile, Woodley and Smith held their points of attack as well, and shuffled down the line toward the ball carrier perfectly. Their shoulders are square to the line of scrimmage, and have effectively sealed off any cut-back lanes the Colts were trying to create. 

Addai cuts up field right as he gets to Harrison's edge, and does a nice job of getting low and driving forward. Harrison has a piece of Addai, but with Castonzo pushing him backward, it's all but certain Addai will at least fall forward. 

Woodley gets down the line, and helps Harrison bring Addai to the ground. The Colts gained two yards on the play, almost entirely because Addai saw he had no running lane, and fought hard to fall forward. Even if Woodley hadn't gotten to him, Allen, Polamalu, Clark or Gay would have. All of them flowed to the ball carrier after shedding their blocks. 

NBC commentator Cris Collinsworth said after the play, "I think James Harrison's back is ok." 

It probably wasn't Harrison's back that allowed Baltimore to run these same kinds of plays to huge gains in Week 1, but he definitely looked as powerful as ever in Week 3. The defense recognized a play that will be run at them frequently this year, and snuffed it out.