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James Harrison injury last thing Steelers need

James Harrison

Steelers' OLB James Harrison will need surgery to repair a fractured right orbital bone. (SI)

The Steelers' season may be at a crossroads already. Sitting at 2-2, Pittsburgh has looked like a shell of its 2010 AFC champion self, and the team announced Wednesday that defensive stalwart James Harrison will miss "a number of weeks" with a fractured right orbital bone.

Harrison will undergo surgery Wednesday. He suffered the injury Sunday at Houston, when he took a helmet-to-helmet hit.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said that Lawrence Timmons will slide out to Harrison's outside-linebacker spot, with Larry Foote plugging the inside position vacated by Timmons' move.

Consider it the football equivalent of using a piece of gum to plug a hole in a dam -- Pittsburgh had major problems before losing Harrison; it's not too hard to imagine the situation getting a whole lot worse in the near future.

If there's any silver lining at all for the Steelers, it's that Harrison will get plenty of time now to regroup after a shaky start to the season. The 33-year-old linebacker had a pair of offseason back surgeries and has said several times that he's playing at well below 100 percent. He's looked it at times, too, including in Week 1 against the Ravens, when Baltimore came out specifically targeting Harrison with running plays.

Still, Harrison has started all but one game for Pittsburgh since 2007 and has 36.5 sacks over the past three seasons. Along with Troy Polamalu, he's arguably one of the most important cogs on the Steelers' attacking 3-4 defense.

That defense, however, has managed just seven sacks in four games and has forced only one turnover on the season.

And from the "when it rains, it pours" department, Pittsburgh's bye doesn't come until Week 11, meaning that Harrison won't even catch a break there. The Steelers host Tennessee Sunday and Jacksonville in Week 6, then have a brutal back-to-back in Weeks 8 and 9 against New England and Baltimore.

If Pittsburgh still hopes to be in playoff contention after that stretch, the defense will have to find a way to improve, without the presence of one of its best players.

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