By means of two weeks, Steelers’ halfback Najee Harris has recorded simply 72 dashing yards on 25 makes an attempt. In the meantime, Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow has been sacked 13 occasions 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 an excellent signal for both group, however whereas I imagine the Bengals and their transformed offensive line will determine it out, I’m not so certain the identical might be mentioned about Najee Harris.
Thursday evening ought to see Harris’s struggles proceed. The Browns are clearly a strong protection with an incredible entrance seven. They’re solely permitting 3.8 yards per carry, the eighth-lowest mark of 2022 to this point, 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 strains definitely are, however the backs themselves are usually not.
That development will proceed with Harris and the Steelers. Positive, Jadeveon Clowney gained’t be enjoying tonight, however Clowney’s strengths have by no means lied in his means to cease the run. In actual fact, his probably substitute, third-round rookie Alex Wright was heralded for his dimension, however by no means his pass-rushing capabilities. Though Wright had an inclination to drop his head towards the run, that’s probably one thing that the Browns labored with him on this offseason. Except for that one detrimental, 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, however it shouldn’t be as large 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 larger than 65, which isn’t that prime a grade. In actual fact, it’s principally substitute degree. 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 towards Cleveland tonight, it spells catastrophe.
The Cleveland entrance seven has been spectacular towards the run in clutch conditions. Solely 20.5 p.c of opponent dashing makes an attempt have gone for first downs. That’s the eighth-best mark within the league. Contemplating that the Pittsburgh offensive line presently ranks twenty third in adjusted line yards (3.88), Harris in all probability gained’t get into the second degree fairly often. That mentioned, the Steelers’ offensive line is mediocre on the subject of stuff price (share of runs the place the operating again is met by a defender at or earlier than the road of scrimmage), that means that Harris might see persistently constructive yardage, even when there wouldn’t be a lot acquire. It might be sloppy, however that’s how Harris might have an effect on the bottom, by placing the Steelers into Third-and-short-to-manageable conditions. Clearly, he might have a a lot larger impression by way of the air, however after two weeks, Harris has solely seen eight targets. Plus, in his two profession video games towards Cleveland, he’s solely seen a complete of six targets. Though, with the addition of George Pickens to the huge 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 recreation tonight.
Moreover, of the 23 operating backs ever to file lower than 4 yards a carry whereas toting the rock a minimum of 300 occasions at 25 or youthful, solely seven went on to have over 1,000 yards dashing the next season, and solely two have finished 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 with no respectable run-blocking offensive line and a quarterback that’s averaging 5.1 yards per move try (useless final amongst QBs with a minimum of 30 move makes an attempt this 12 months), his impression in video games by way of the bottom assault can be minimal. All this mentioned, I do know I’ve talked dangerous in regards to the Steelers’ offensive line so much, however they had been capable of produce a 1,000-yard rusher in 2021 whereas recording an adjusted line yard price of three.75. They’re doing higher than that to this point this 12 months, so so long as the Steelers’ protection can hold that inefficient offense in video games, then maybe there’s hope for Harris to return to type. It simply (in all probability) gained’t occur this week.