The Pittsburgh Steelers’ running game has gradually shown signs of life over the course of the first five weeks of the 2021 season, finally really breaking through this past Sunday in a win over the Denver Broncos. Rookie running back Najee Harris had a strong day, rushing for 122 yards with a touchdown on 23 carries.
A lot of it had to do with the fact that he had more holes to work through than normal, with the offensive line providing him with greater opportunities. Second-year running back Anthony McFarland was hardly surprised to see that, and knew it was coming for a long time.
“I’ve always had confidence in our O-line for a very long time”, he told reporters on Friday. “Even before the Packers game, I just knew the running game was gonna get going. I could just tell how they practiced, how they go about their business, I just knew we were gonna get it right”.
The offensive line looks a lot different than it did last season, McFarland’s rookie year. Gone are starters Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Alejandro Villanueva, and Matt Feiler. In comes rookies Kendrick Green and Dan Moore Jr., second-year Kevin Dotson, and free agent signing Trai Turner, so far with Chukwuma Okorafor returning at right tackle.
“It’s been amazing to watch because we’ve been with these guys all camp, and to see these guys come out here and just learn how to play together, I feel like that’s everybody’s job”, McFarland said. “Just to learn how to play together. And I feel like that’s the biggest thing as an offensive lineman. To see those guys stick together through the tough times and just to bring the running game along, it’s a good thing to see”.
They’ve made strides just run in the run blocking but in pass protection as well. The lone sack that Ben Roethlisberger took this past week, for example, was his own fault for not getting rid the ball when he should have.
“They’ve been progressing very well”, the back said of his blockers. “They’ve been doing everything they’re supposed to do. I’ve been very excited because I’ve been seeing them in training camp, just working so hard, doing what they’re supposed to do. I just knew they were gonna get it right. Always had confidence in them”.
McFarland has been on the Reserve/Injured List, but looks likely to be ready after their Week 7 bye. Then he’ll get to put his money where his mouth is with regards to his faith in this offensive line to block for him and the rest of the Steelers’ runners.