Via 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 a great signal for both staff, however whereas I imagine the Bengals and their transformed offensive line will determine it out, I’m not so certain the identical could be stated about Najee Harris.
Thursday evening ought to see Harris’s struggles proceed. The Browns are clearly a strong protection with an ideal entrance seven. They’re solely permitting 3.8 yards per carry, the eighth-lowest mark of 2022 to date, 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 actually are, however the backs themselves aren’t.
That pattern will proceed with Harris and the Steelers. Positive, Jadeveon Clowney received’t be taking part in tonight, however Clowney’s strengths have by no means lied in his capability to cease the run. In reality, his possible 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 possible one thing that the Browns labored with him on this offseason. Except for that one unfavorable, 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.
Because the 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 top a grade. In reality, 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 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 degree fairly often. That stated, the Steelers’ offensive line is mediocre with regards to stuff charge (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 constantly constructive yardage, even when there wouldn’t be a lot achieve. It will 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 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 sport tonight.
Furthermore, of the 23 operating backs ever to report lower than 4 yards a carry whereas toting the rock no less than 300 occasions at 25 or youthful, solely seven went on to have over 1,000 yards speeding the next season, and solely two have completed 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 with out a first rate run-blocking offensive line and a quarterback that’s averaging 5.1 yards per go try (lifeless final amongst QBs with no less than 30 go makes an attempt this yr), his impression in video games through the bottom assault can be minimal. All this stated, I do know I’ve talked dangerous concerning the Steelers’ offensive line so much, however they had been in a position to produce a 1,000-yard rusher in 2021 whereas recording an adjusted line yard charge 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 type. It simply (in all probability) received’t occur this week.