By way 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 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 through sacks. That’s not signal for both workforce, however whereas I consider 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 awesome entrance seven. They’re solely permitting 3.8 yards per carry, the eighth-lowest mark of 2022 to date, all whereas dealing with 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 pattern will proceed with Harris and the Steelers. Certain, Jadeveon Clowney received’t be taking part in tonight, however Clowney’s strengths have by no means lied in his potential to cease the run. In truth, his doubtless substitute, third-round rookie Alex Wright was heralded for his measurement, however never his pass-rushing capabilities. Though Wright had a bent to drop his head towards the run, that’s doubtless one thing that the Browns labored with him on this offseason. Apart from that one detrimental, Wright’s strengths out of faculty have virtually solely 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 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 larger than 65, which isn’t that prime a grade. In truth, 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 tip of the season, and for his or her matchup towards Cleveland tonight, it spells disaster.
The Cleveland entrance seven has been spectacular towards 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 presently ranks twenty third in adjusted line yards (3.88), Harris in all probability received’t get into the second stage fairly often. That mentioned, the Steelers’ offensive line is mediocre in relation to stuff rate (share of runs the place the working again is met by a defender at or earlier than the road of scrimmage), that means that Harris may see persistently optimistic yardage, even when there wouldn’t be a lot achieve. It will 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 larger influence via 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 extensive 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 running backs ever to report lower than 4 yards a carry whereas toting the rock at the least 300 occasions at 25 or youthful, solely seven went on to have over 1,000 yards speeding the next season, and solely two have accomplished it because the 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 look 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 (useless final amongst QBs with at the least 30 go makes an attempt this yr), his influence in video games through the bottom assault might be minimal. All this mentioned, I do know I’ve talked dangerous concerning the Steelers’ offensive line loads, however they had been in a position to 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 date this yr, so so long as the Steelers’ protection can maintain that inefficient offense in video games, then maybe there’s hope for Harris to return to kind. It simply (in all probability) received’t occur this week.