By means 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 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 a very good 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 night time 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 games. These aren’t pushovers. New York’s and the Panthers’ offensive traces definitely are, however the backs themselves usually are not.
That pattern will proceed with Harris and the Steelers. Positive, Jadeveon Clowney received’t be enjoying tonight, however Clowney’s strengths have by no means lied in his skill to cease the run. In actual fact, his probably 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 probably one thing that the Browns labored with him on this offseason. Other than that one unfavorable, Wright’s strengths out of school have virtually 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 larger than 65, which isn’t that prime a grade. In actual fact, 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 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 dashing 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 mentioned, the Steelers’ offensive line is mediocre in terms of stuff price (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 achieve. 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 larger impression by way of the air, however after two weeks, Harris has solely seen eight targets. Plus, in his two profession 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 game 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 dashing 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 no respectable run-blocking offensive line and a quarterback that’s averaging 5.1 yards per cross try (lifeless final amongst QBs with no less than 30 cross makes an attempt this yr), his impression in games through the bottom assault might be minimal. All this mentioned, I do know I’ve talked dangerous concerning the Steelers’ offensive line loads, 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 yr, so so long as the Steelers’ protection can preserve that inefficient offense in games, then maybe there may be hope for Harris to return to kind. It simply (in all probability) received’t occur this week.
Daniel Elton, senior editor at Wahu Times, writes about politics and policy with a focus on climate advocacy. Daniel previously at the New Republic and, and Self. Daniel can be reached by email.