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Steelers vs. Bengals: Arthur Moats should be ready to hold his ground

The Steelers listed outside linebacker James Harrison as doubtful for their Week 14 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. But if Harrison does suit up, it speaks volumes as to how the team feels about its ability to stop the run without a strong edge-presence on the defensive right side.

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

It's possible that Steelers' outside linebacker James Harrison will play on Sunday against his old team, the Cincinnati Bengals, despite having been limited all week with a knee injury. He hasn't practiced and, while the 36-year-old NFL vet may not need as many reps to get ready as, say, rookie Ryan Shazier, if he does play, it would suggest an interesting strategy on the part of the Steelers.

Harrison is still an outstanding run defender, both in terms of technique and getting to the ball carrier. Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola Tweeted the plan for recently-activated Jarvis Jones is to play him in pass-rushing situations. That implies Jones won't be in on running downs and also suggests backup Arthur Moats will take those snaps - unless Harrison can, in fact, play.

On one hand, Jones hasn't played since Week 3 and hasn't been all that strong of a run-defender anyway. He's liable to make a stop or two but usually is beaten at the point of attack. It would make sense to give the team's only fully healthy right outside linebacker, Moats, the bulk of the snaps against the run.

On the other hand, though, in listing Harrison as doubtful, only to activate him for this game and put him on the field against the run, all but dares the Bengals to run at them. This, in turn, would help a sagging secondary that just put cornerback Cortez Allen on injured reserve with a broken thumb, further exposing the depth problems they have.

James Harrison destroyed the Baltimore Ravens.

If the Bengals see Jones on the field, particularly behind rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt or Cam Thomas, it would seem likely they'd want to run at them. If they see Harrison on the field, it's likely they'd want to challenge him as well. Even if the Bengals' strength is running the football, the Steelers would have to like that matchup more than the idea of the Bengals going into no-huddle with four receivers, thus trapping the Steelers' damaged sub-packages even more, particularly with what might be an under-conditioned (in terms of game stamina) Jones on the field.

Harrison may be the least of three evils in this case.

Moats should be expected to see a large amount of snaps but, if Harrison is active for this game, it could be even more an indictment of the Steelers' coverage units than it is of its run defense with either Moats or Jones.