Fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers heard the same song and dance the entire offseason.
“We need to improve our running game.”
“We are determined to improve our running game.”
“The Steelers being last in the league in rushing won’t happen again.”
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Whether it was Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, Matt Canada or Adrian Klemm, they all sang the same song. After three games in the 2021 regular season, it feels as if the song from the 2020 season is stuck on repeat.
The Steelers’ 53 yards per game, after the first three games, places them dead last in the league. On top of that, their 3.2 yards per attempt is also dead last. Sound familiar? Yes, the Steelers picked up right where they left off in 2020.
However, like a cheesy commercial...but wait! There’s more!
To make the averages even worse, this statistic from Pro Football Focus (PFF) is absolutely absurd. Before we get there, if you ever thought for a second the reason the Steelers couldn’t run the ball was due to rookie running back Najee Harris, well, just keep reading.
Steelers' Najee Harris has been hit at or behind the LOS on 70% of his carries — highest rate in the NFL, per @PFF.— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) September 27, 2021
That’s right, 70% of Harris’ carries he has been hit behind the line of scrimmage. To shine more light on this, check out this informational nugget from our own Geoffrey Benedict:
Harris ran for negative yards three times Week 1 vs. the Buffalo Bills, twice in Week 2 vs. the Las Vegas Raiders and only once in Week 3 vs. the Cincinnati Bengals.
For getting hit behind the line that much, wow. 70% of 40 carries is 28 times hit in the backfield, 6 total runs for losses. In other words, 70% of the time the line fails to get him to the line of scrimmage (LOS), 78.6% of the time he gets there anyway.
The list of failures on the offensive side of the ball for the Pittsburgh Steelers is long, but at the same time trying to place the blame on Harris for the Steelers’ running game woes is way off the mark.
Imagine for a second if Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland, Kalen Ballage or Jaylen Samuels were tasked with running behind this line. Do you think they’d even have 3.2 yards per carry? I certainly don’t. Harris has shown his worth in many ways, and unfortunately one of the most glaring ways he has shown his value is by breaking tackles in the backfield and making something out of nothing.
Not many fans with the capability to watch games are blaming Harris for the Steelers’ lack of a running game. However, these statistics certainly shed plenty of light on who the real culprit is — the offensive line.
Just for fun, think about what Harris could do if the first contact he sees is beyond the line of scrimmage. He would be rattling off chunk plays regularly. While this is the goal, the focus remains for the Steelers’ offensive line to start putting things together and becoming more of a cohesive unit. But if you are looking for someone to blame for the Steelers’ inadequacies in the running game, don’t point the finger at No. 22.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the Green Bay Packers in Week 4 of the 2021 regular season.