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 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 signal for both crew, however whereas I consider the Bengals and their transformed offensive line will determine it out, I’m not so positive the identical might be stated about Najee Harris.
Thursday night time ought to see Harris’s struggles proceed. The Browns are clearly a strong protection with an excellent entrance seven. They’re solely permitting 3.8 yards per carry, the eighth-lowest mark of 2022 thus far, 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 capability to cease the run. In reality, his seemingly substitute, third-round rookie Alex Wright was heralded for his measurement, however by no means his pass-rushing capabilities. Though Wright had an inclination to drop his head in opposition to the run, that’s seemingly one thing that the Browns labored with him on this offseason. Other than 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, nevertheless 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 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 catastrophe.
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 gained’t get into the second stage fairly often. That stated, the Steelers’ offensive line is mediocre in relation to stuff charge (proportion 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 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 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 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 document 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 speeding 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 no first rate run-blocking offensive line and a quarterback that’s averaging 5.1 yards per cross try (useless final amongst QBs with a minimum of 30 cross makes an attempt this yr), his impression in video games by way of the bottom assault shall be minimal. All this stated, I do know I’ve talked unhealthy in regards to the Steelers’ offensive line quite a bit, however they had been capable of produce a 1,000-yard rusher in 2021 whereas recording an adjusted line yard charge of three.75. They’re doing higher than that thus far this yr, so so long as the Steelers’ protection can maintain that inefficient offense in video games, then maybe there may be hope for Harris to return to kind. It simply (most likely) gained’t occur this week.