The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team who decided to take their entire 2021 offseason and use it to improve their dreadful running game. They drafted running back Najee Harris 24th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, Kendrick Green in the 3rd round and the Dan Moore Jr. in the 4th round. On top of that, they promoted both Adrian Klemm to offensive line coach and Matt Canada to offensive coordinator.
It is safe to say these moves were made solely around Art Rooney’s desire to improve their running game, this after finishing dead last in the NFL in both rushing yards per game, and rushing yards per carry in 2020.
After the Steelers’ Week 1 victory over the Buffalo Bills, fans are wondering if all those moves, which also included signing Trai Turner and an improved Kevin Dotson, were making a difference at all. The Steelers had 75 yards rushing total in Buffalo, averaging 3.6 yards per carry. Numbers which sound eerily similar to last season. But Matt Canada isn’t going to hit the panic button on the run game just yet. After all, it’s about winning games.
“We want to try to be a balanced offense, right?” Canada told media Thursday. “If it’s all pass and this and that, that’s not necessarily what we’re looking to do as a seasonal goal. We want to be a team that can run the ball when we have to run it, throw the ball when we have to throw it.
“Obviously, we want to protect every position. We want to put our players in the best position to make plays...Every game’s different. As I’ve said, and I’ve said it multiple times, the defense can take away whatever they want to take away. If they wanna stop the run, they can do that. If they wanna stop the pass, they can do that. We have to be good enough to take advantage of their most vulnerable position. There always is one. Doesn’t mean you’re gonna get it, doesn’t mean we’re gonna win it, but there is a vulnerable spot based on everybody we play, just like we have a vulnerable spot-on offense, and they know that. We’ve gotta be able to execute and be able to do both.”
The Steelers were able to make enough plays vs. the Bills, and those plays were primarily through the air. Ben Roethlisberger being able to connect on big plays to Chase Claypool, Pat Freiermuth and Eric Ebron helped soften the Bills’ defensive plan of crowding the line of scrimmage and daring the Steelers to beat them over the top. But that doesn’t take away from the team needing to run the ball more efficiently.
“We need to run the ball better. You can ask me that every time we do this. I’m gonna say that every time.” Canada said. “Obviously, we always want to run the ball better no matter how well we run it. Yeah, we wanna run the ball better. I think we had one play-action where we had a missed assignment there that we ended up having a sack, that first-and-10 on the 45 in the first half. That was a tough play. We all saw that and know that. We did have some play-actions that were okay, some that weren’t as good. Some runs that were okay, some runs that weren’t as good. We’re trying to get everything better.”
When asked if Najee Harris playing 100% of the offensive snaps, in his first professional game, was a surprise, Canada said it wasn’t.
“I wasn’t surprised. We were going to play him as much as we felt like he could handle. Obviously, we’re going to continue to watch him. [Eddie] Faulk[ner] does a great job with making sure he’s not tired. We didn’t have as many plays as we would’ve hoped based on the first half not going quite the way we wanted it to, based on, obviously, the blocked punt. The reps minimize in that. So, it wasn’t like we were definitely going to do that no matter what, but that’s the way it went. I wasn’t surprised, once the game ended, with the number of plays we had.”
Ultimately, Canada felt as if Harris, along with the entire offense, settled in during the second half of the game.
“I think everybody did.” Canada added. “We all talked last week, and we weren’t very positive it was gonna be great. The first half, we were just a little bit off at multiple spots: this block, that block. It starts with all of us, as coaches, first. We just weren’t quite right. Offensive football is 11 men doing their job and if one guy doesn’t, it’s not clean. I think he [Najee Harris] did [improve]. I think everybody did.”
When you look at the Steelers’ offense in Week 1, and you see four rookies starting, it can be a cause for concern. Canada felt as if they represented themselves well, considering their circumstances.
“Obviously, the four rookies that had never played an NFL game did a great job.” Canada said.
Will the Steelers be able to run the ball better against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 2? They surrendered 189 yards to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 1, but the Ravens to that to a lot of defenses. This should be another good measuring stick for the Steelers’ rushing game, and the hope is they start to see the fruits of their offseason labor.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the Raiders in Week 2 of the 2021 regular season.