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 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 through sacks. That’s not signal for both workforce, however whereas I imagine the Bengals and their transformed offensive line will determine it out, I’m not so positive the identical could be mentioned about Najee Harris.
Thursday evening ought to see Harris’s struggles proceed. The Browns are clearly a strong protection with an amazing 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 traces actually are, however the backs themselves aren’t.
That development 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 capacity to cease the run. In actual fact, his seemingly substitute, third-round rookie Alex Wright was heralded for his dimension, however by no means his pass-rushing capabilities. Though Wright had a bent to drop his head towards the run, that’s seemingly one thing that the Browns labored with him on this offseason. Apart from that one detrimental, Wright’s strengths out of faculty have nearly solely 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.
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 better than 65, which isn’t that prime a grade. In actual fact, 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 towards Cleveland tonight, it spells catastrophe.
The Cleveland entrance seven has been spectacular towards 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 in all probability gained’t get into the second stage fairly often. That mentioned, the Steelers’ offensive line is mediocre in relation to stuff price (proportion 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 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 possibility, I discover it unlikely Harris will get extra motion within the passing sport tonight.
Furthermore, of the 23 operating backs ever to file lower than 4 yards a carry whereas toting the rock at the least 300 instances at 25 or youthful, solely seven went on to have over 1,000 yards speeding the next season, and solely two have achieved 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 seem like on the extent of both of these males I simply listed.
Harris is clearly an enormously-talented particular person, however with no respectable run-blocking offensive line and a quarterback that’s averaging 5.1 yards per go try (useless final amongst QBs with at the least 30 go makes an attempt this yr), his impression in video games through the bottom assault shall be minimal. All this mentioned, I do know I’ve talked unhealthy in regards to the Steelers’ offensive line lots, however they have 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 thus far this yr, 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 type. It simply (in all probability) gained’t occur this week.