Though the Pittsburgh Steelers’ run game may not be getting better, its starting running back is. That’s Mike Tomlin’s assessment of Najee Harris’ two games into the year, who spoke highly of the team’s first-round pick during his Tuesday press conference.
‘With each passing quarter that you’ve mentioned. he’s been better,” Tomlin told reporters Tuesday. “Not that that’s unexpected. We spent a lot of time talking about the cohesion and the development and the comfortability of the blockers, but the same could be said for the runner. Who also played eight quarters of NFL football. He was better last week than he was in Week One, in terms of the things that we value, Maybe some things that aren’t valued to the naked eye, but just are professionalism things, mechanic things, technical things.”
Harris has sure had plenty of reps to get better with. He has played all but three snaps through the team’s first two games. And though his overall snap number isn’t the highest in the league, his percentage of snaps is by far the most of any running back. Here’s the NFL’s top five.
Najee Harris – 97.4%
Joe Mixon – 80.2%
Darrell Henderson – 80.2%
Christian McCaffrey – 79.3%
Zeke Elliott – 78.1%
Harris’ 111 snaps are tied for second-most of a running back, only trailing Elliott’s 114. Harris was played about as well as expected behind an offensive line finding its footing. He’s made an impact in the passing game, his first touchdown coming through the air on a 25-yard catch and run on third down against the Raiders. In fact, he had more yards through the air than on the ground in Week Two.
With more reps and chances to learn and grow, Tomlin believes the sky is the limit.
“He’s going to continue to get comfortable. And by comfortable, understanding your preparation sets you up for performance. That’s something a young guy has to get comfortable with. Why do we do what we do on a Wednesday? What does it do in terms of setting me up for success on a Sunday? He’s been through a couple of weeks, been through a couple of those cycles, he’s gaining an understanding of what the process does in terms of setting him up for performance. Thus, it should put him in position to let his natural talents come out and play. I’m expecting him to get routinely better with each outing. Excited about that.”
Harris and the Steelers’ run game will look to get on track against the Cincinnati Bengals’ Sunday. Through two games, the Bengals’ run defense has performed well, holding Dalvin Cook and David Montgomery to identical, 20-carry, 61-yard performances. They’re allowing just 3.4 yards per carry and no run longer than 17 yards through two weeks. Both numbers rank among the best in football.
Through two games, the Steelers have the league’s fewest rushing yards (114) and only the Packers and Raiders have a worse yards per carry than the team’s 3.3. If there’s any signs of optimism, historically the Steelers have ran well against the Bengals and to go 2-1, they’ll need to do so again this weekend.