Today's Pigskin

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd (83) fumbles as he is hit by Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison (92) during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016. The ball was recovered by Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Robert Golden (21). The Steelers won 24-16. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers look to keep Harrison, Jones on field together

AP Photo/Don Wright

PITTSBURGH — James Harrison has played well through the first two weeks of the season, which isn’t a surprise. Jarvis Jones has played well, too, which is a bit of a surprise.

Both outside linebackers have made such an impact during the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2-0 start that coach Mike Tomlin plans to have them on the field at the same time Sunday when his team visits the Philadelphia Eagles (2-0) in a matchup of unbeaten at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

The duo had never played together until last Sunday’s 24-16 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

As spry as ever at 38, Harrison has four tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and a pass defended for the Steelers, who rank eighth in the league in points allowed (16.0 a game) despite standing 22nd in total yards allowed (398.0 a game).

Following three disappointing seasons since the Steelers drafted him in the first round in 2013 from Georgia, Jones has eight tackles. When Jones suffered a wrist injury in the third game of the 2014 season, Harrison came out of retirement to take his place at right outside linebacker.

Jones’ defensive snap count rose from 43 in Week 1 to 57 in Week 2 while Harrison’s went up from 29 to 38.

After Jones returned later that season, the two shared the same spot and continued to do some through last season and this year’s season-opening 38-16 victory over the Washington Redskins. The Steelers’ depth at outside linebacker also took a hit when Bud Dupree underwent sports hernia surgery just before the start of the season, landing him on injured reserve.

“Jarvis has played well for us, and we want to find ways to allow him to continue to play even as we rotate others in,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “He has been the guy we have identified as being capable of playing either side, and it’s simply that.”

Harrison helped the Steelers seal their win over the Bengals last week when he hit rookie wide receiver Tyler Boyd following a 6-yard gain with 1:50 remaining, forcing a fumble with Pittsburgh nursing an eight-point lead. Safety Robert Golden returned the loose ball 21 yards to the Cincinnati 46.

Harrison also intercepted a pass by Kirk Cousins in the end zone with 23 seconds left to seal the victory to put an exclamation point on the victory over the Redskins.

“James is a unique guy, unique in a lot of ways,” Tomlin said. “He still is a formidable guy, whether we ask him to rush or to play some underneath coverage. He’s a team player. He’s back and playing because he wants to win, and those are not just words. He lives it. He does whatever it is we ask him to do.”

Jones has not become the pass-rusher the Steelers had hoped for after he led the nation in sacks during his final two seasons at Georgia. In fact, Jones has just five sacks in 38 games during his injury-marred pro career.

The Steelers declined to pick up Jones’ fifth-year option on his rookie contract in the offseason, which means he can become an unrestricted free agent after this season. He seems intent on making that look like a bad decision by the Steelers.

“Just the natural maturation process of being here four years, I’d imagine there is not only increased growth not only in knowing what to do but the detail within that,” Tomlin said of Jones’ improved play. “Ultimately, that’s probably what produces positive play, not only for Jarvis but for anyone.”

For his part, Jones would love to work out a contract with the Steelers despite their offseason decision.

“I love this place,” Jones said. “I don’t want to leave. There is a business side to it. Whatever happens, happens, but I definitely want to be here. It’s their decision. I just have to do what I need to do so they will give me an opportunity to stay here.”

“I love it here. This is home for me. It’s going to be home for me until I decide to do something else.”

Steelers look to keep Harrison, Jones on field together

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