By way 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 through sacks. That’s not a great signal for both staff, however whereas I consider the Bengals and their transformed offensive line will determine it out, I’m not so positive the identical may be stated about Najee Harris.
Thursday evening ought to see Harris’s struggles proceed. The Browns are clearly a stable protection with a terrific 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 actually are, however the backs themselves will not be.
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 potential to cease the run. In reality, 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 towards the run, that’s possible one thing that the Browns labored with him on this offseason. Except for that one damaging, Wright’s strengths out of school have virtually completely come as a run defender sealing off the sting. There could also be a drop-off in rush protection from Cleveland, but it surely shouldn’t be as enormous 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 better than 65, which isn’t that top a grade. In reality, 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 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 dashing 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 in all probability gained’t get into the second degree fairly often. That stated, 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 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 better 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 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 at the least 300 occasions at 25 or youthful, solely seven went on to have over 1,000 yards dashing the next season, and solely two have carried out 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 look like on the extent of both of these males I simply listed.
Harris is clearly an enormously-talented particular person, however with out a respectable 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 move makes an attempt this 12 months), his impression in video games through the bottom assault can be minimal. All this stated, I do know I’ve talked unhealthy concerning the Steelers’ offensive line rather a lot, 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 kind. It simply (in all probability) gained’t occur this week.