The mantra from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ coaching staff this week? Beat man coverage. Safe to say, Najee Harris passed that test. Harris had two catches in Saturday’s win over Detroit but it was his 46-yarder that will be on all the highlight reels. A short catch that Harris ran down the right sideline, stiff-arming defenders, juking DBs, and coming away with a ton of YAC.
After the game, Harris says the coaching staff challenged him and the other Steelers’ skill players to win their 1v1 matchups. He talked about his long catch and run with reporters.
“I think they were running man coverage,” Harris said via Steelers.com after the game. “22 man. That was a big emphasize this week. Make sure you win your one-on-ones down on top with the linebackers because that’s the best way to answer that. So I was happy when he said that. I had a one-on-one with the linebacker. I just went to the right and then got the ball. I was one-on-one with him. I saw another guy behind, I don’t know if it was the d-end but I saw the d-end drop into coverage. So I knew I had the edge at that point, so I kind of stuttered on my feet to slow him down. And watched Ebron pickup the block in the back.”
22 man is 2-man coverage, a two high shell with man coverage underneath. Win that initial matchup and there’s room to run, which Harris had, though he created a chunk of it with his blend of power and agility.
— Steelers Depot (@Steelersdepot) August 22, 2021
Also worth noting the Steelers were under center and ran playaction. And despite Ben Roethlisberger’s note that you don’t want to throw short on playaction, he’s never gotten to throw to Harris in a game before. Maybe now he’s changed his tune.
Mark it down for early stats of the weird and of course, this play doesn’t actually count, Harris’ 46 yard catch was the longest reception by a Steelers’ running back since Le’Veon Bell had a 48 yard grab against the New Orleans Saints in 2014, seven years ago.
Plays like this are another comparison to Bell, equal parts of a weapon in the pass game as he was in the run game. With Harris’ receiving chops and every down ability, he should easily catch 50 passes this season. In a 17-game season and knowing how prolific Le’Veon Bell was, there’s still a chance Harris could break Chase Claypool’s franchise rookie receptions record. Harris would need 63 grabs, just 3.7 per game, to set that mark.
No matter how many Harris catches, 50, 63, or 80, he’s going to do damage on each of them. And add an extra layer to this offense they simply didn’t have a year ago.