By means of two weeks, Steelers’ halfback Najee Harris has recorded simply 72 speeding yards on 25 makes an attempt. In the meantime, Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow has been sacked 13 instances for a complete lack of 73 yards. Harris has been so inefficient (3.47 yards per carry) that he’s recorded fewer yards on the bottom than the Bengals have misplaced by way of sacks. That’s not signal for both group, however whereas I consider the Bengals and their transformed offensive line will determine it out, I’m not so certain the identical may be stated about Najee Harris.
Thursday night time ought to see Harris’s struggles proceed. The Browns are clearly a strong protection with an ideal entrance seven. They’re solely permitting 3.8 yards per carry, the eighth-lowest mark of 2022 to date, all whereas going through Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey, then Breece Corridor and Michael Carter of the Jets, of their first two video games. These aren’t pushovers. New York’s and the Panthers’ offensive traces actually are, however the backs themselves will not be.
That development will proceed with Harris and the Steelers. Positive, Jadeveon Clowney received’t be taking part in tonight, however Clowney’s strengths have by no means lied in his capability to cease the run. In reality, his doubtless substitute, third-round rookie Alex Wright was heralded for his dimension, however never his pass-rushing capabilities. Though Wright had an inclination to drop his head in opposition to the run, that’s doubtless one thing that the Browns labored with him on this offseason. Apart from that one unfavorable, Wright’s strengths out of school have nearly completely come as a run defender sealing off the sting. There could also be a drop-off in rush protection from Cleveland, nevertheless it shouldn’t be as enormous an issue as Clowney’s absence makes it appear.
For the reason that begin of the season, there is just one starter on the Steelers’ offensive line — Chukwuma Okorafor — with a run-blocking grade higher than 65, which isn’t that prime a grade. In reality, it’s principally substitute stage. But 4 of the Steelers’ 5 starters can’t even handle that. That’s not one thing that’s going to drastically enhance by the top of the season, and for his or her matchup in opposition to Cleveland tonight, it spells disaster.
The Cleveland entrance seven has been spectacular in opposition to the run in clutch conditions. Solely 20.5 p.c of opponent speeding makes an attempt have gone for first downs. That’s the eighth-best mark within the league. Contemplating that the Pittsburgh offensive line at the moment ranks twenty third in adjusted line yards (3.88), Harris most likely received’t get into the second stage fairly often. That stated, the Steelers’ offensive line is mediocre relating to stuff rate (share of runs the place the working again is met by a defender at or earlier than the road of scrimmage), which means that Harris may see persistently optimistic yardage, even when there wouldn’t be a lot acquire. It could be sloppy, however that’s how Harris may have an effect on the bottom, by placing the Steelers into Third-and-short-to-manageable conditions. Clearly, he may have a a lot higher affect via the air, however after two weeks, Harris has solely seen eight targets. Plus, in his two profession video games in opposition to Cleveland, he’s solely seen a complete of six targets. Though, with the addition of George Pickens to the large receiver corps and the emergence of Pat Freiermuth as an efficient short-yardage passing choice, I discover it unlikely Harris will get extra motion within the passing sport tonight.
Furthermore, of the 23 working backs ever to file lower than 4 yards a carry whereas toting the rock a minimum of 300 instances at 25 or youthful, solely seven went on to have over 1,000 yards speeding the next season, and solely two have completed it for the reason that begin of the twenty first century (LaDainian Tomlinson and Clinton Portis, each in 2005). Let’s be clear, it’s nonetheless too early to inform, however Najee Harris doesn’t fairly seem like on the extent of both of these males I simply listed.
Harris is clearly an enormously-talented particular person, however and not using a first rate run-blocking offensive line and a quarterback that’s averaging 5.1 yards per pass attempt (lifeless final amongst QBs with a minimum of 30 cross makes an attempt this 12 months), his affect in video games by way of the bottom assault can be minimal. All this stated, I do know I’ve talked unhealthy concerning the Steelers’ offensive line lots, however they have been capable of produce a 1,000-yard rusher in 2021 whereas recording an adjusted line yard fee of three.75. They’re doing higher than that to date this 12 months, so so long as the Steelers’ protection can preserve that inefficient offense in video games, then maybe there’s hope for Harris to return to type. It simply (most likely) received’t occur this week.