By 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 an excellent signal for both staff, however whereas I consider the Bengals and their transformed offensive line will determine it out, I’m not so certain the identical might be stated about Najee Harris.
Thursday evening ought to see Harris’s struggles proceed. The Browns are clearly a stable protection with an ideal 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 traces definitely are, however the backs themselves aren’t.
That pattern will proceed with Harris and the Steelers. Positive, Jadeveon Clowney gained’t be taking part in tonight, however Clowney’s strengths have by no means lied in his capability to cease the run. In truth, his possible 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 possible one thing that the Browns labored with him on this offseason. Apart from that one unfavourable, 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 large an issue as Clowney’s absence makes it appear.
Because the 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 top a grade. In truth, it’s mainly 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 tip 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 % 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 present ranks twenty third in adjusted line yards (3.88), Harris most likely gained’t get into the second degree fairly often. That stated, the Steelers’ offensive line is mediocre in the case of 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 constantly constructive 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 impression 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 broad receiver corps and the emergence of Pat Freiermuth as an efficient short-yardage passing possibility, 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 no less than 300 instances 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 seem like on the extent of both of these males I simply listed.
Harris is clearly an enormously-talented particular person, however with no first rate run-blocking offensive line and a quarterback that’s averaging 5.1 yards per pass attempt (lifeless final amongst QBs with no less than 30 cross makes an attempt this 12 months), his impression in video games by way of the bottom assault will probably be minimal. All this stated, I do know I’ve talked dangerous in regards to the Steelers’ offensive line rather a lot, however they have been in a position to 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 this point 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 kind. It simply (most likely) gained’t occur this week.