James Harrison would give the Cincinnati Bengals the NFL's best pass rush. The Bengals have already held talks with the 34-year-old former Pittsburgh Steelers star.
Those are talks are ongoing, according to NFL.com's Marc Sessler. Acquiring the free agent rush linebacker would boost an already fearsome rotation of pass-rushers.
Cincinnati's defense was just one sack shy of leading the league in quarterback takedowns in 2012. The Bengals compiled 51 sacks and trailed only the Denver Broncos and St. Louis Rams in applying pressure.
The lion's share of that pressure came from a deep and talented defensive line. Coordinator Mike Zimmer can rely on bookend edge-rushers Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap to collapse the pocket from the outside.
The pair combined for 17.5 sacks last season. Reserve ends Wallace Gilberry and Robert Geathers added a further 9.5.
Gilberry proved to be a very astute signing. He joined after being waived by the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The ex-New York Giants practice squad member became a key weapon in Zimmer's schemes. Gilberry plays end and tackle and threatens every area of a blocking scheme. He logged 6.5 of those 51 sacks.
As good as they are on the outside, the real strength of Cincy's formidable line rotation might be in the middle. That's where cat-quick defensive tackle Geno Atkins dominates.
There is simply no more prolific interior pass-rusher in the NFL than Atkins. A natural 3-technique who loves to attack gaps, Atkins notched 12.5 sacks to lead the team.
That's an eye-popping stat for a tackle. Zimmer incorporates plenty of stunts, twists and line games to effectively utilize Atkins' speed off the snap.
The Bengals use this diverse group of linemen in a variety of fronts to threaten the pass-pocket. Adding Harrison to this already potent mix would increase the versatility of Cincy's pressure schemes.
As a 3-4 outside linebacker, Harrison is only one step removed from a pass-rushing defensive end. He still combines deceptive strength with excellent takeoff speed and leverage.
He could operate as a standup rusher anywhere across the Bengals' base and nickel defenses. His experience playing the Steelers' zone-blitz scheme could also allow Zimmer to expand his own fire zone packages.
According to Sessler, the Bengals would use Harrison as an outside linebacker in base fronts and as a situational pass-rusher in their nickel defense.
Using Harrison's blitz skills to supplement their powerful front four, would make Cincinnati's 4-3 base defense one of the most feared in the league. Deploying him as a roving weapon in obvious passing situations would give the Bengals the NFL's best pass rush.13706