Things have been pretty underwhelming offensively for the Pittsburgh Steelers through three weeks of the 2021 season.
A new offensive coordinator in Matt Canada, a nearly-entirely new offensive line up front, a new, No. 1 draft pick in the backfield and Najee Harris — all were supposed to kickstart a stagnant Steelers’ offense that closed the 2020 season with a whimper.
Instead, it’s been anything but that through three weeks as the Steelers have scored just four offensive touchdowns through three weeks, continue to get off to incredibly slow starts, and cannot protect Ben Roethlisberger in the pocket or consistently open up running lanes for Harris.
While Harris has missed some holes early in the season as he adjusts to the NFL and the speed of the game, former Pittsburgh Steelers running back and current Steelers.com contributor Merril Hoge stated during an interview with the 102.5 WDVE morning show in Pittsburgh Wednesday that he believes people cannot truly appreciate how well the rookie running back has played early in the season.
“…You aren’t going to move anybody like that. And you’re going to be at the line of scrimmage. And the problem with that, then you give the runner no shot. You give him no options. You’re getting no running lanes,” Hoge said to DVE. “And until those things change, it’ll be really hard to get anything running the way Najee runs. What he has done…I’m telling you, I don’t think anybody could truly appreciate how well he has played. And when it comes to blocking, which he never get highlighted for, that cat is on it. He’s done so much for that team that he shouldn’t really; I don’t know. He kinda got recognized last week with all the catches and what he did. But man, that kid plays, I’m telling you. To see, like, he’s got good character though. Cause he could easily tank it, right? You could just see when he goes and gets the ball. He’s still doing what he needs to do. And I guarantee it. He’s like, I don’t know if anybody is going to be there. I don’t know if any of these guys I’m going to catch it and shut it down. But that’s one of the reasons they drafted him. That’s how you build a great team is where people like that when things are not going well, you don’t give up, you keep fighting with it. And then you encourage the guys that are not playing well to, you know, to start playing better so that you can come together as a team.”
Harris has certainly done his part in trying to spark the Steelers’ offense when the football is in his hands. Through three weeks, Harris leads the Steelers with 19 forced missed tackles on 60 total touches, adding one touchdown through the air. He’s been strong in pass protection and runs extremely hard, refusing to go down on first contact.
It is true that he’s not receiving much running room from the rebuilt offensive line in front of him as he’s often hit in the backfield shortly after receiving the handoff, but as we’ve stated before here at Steelers Depot, he’s missed some running lanes as well and needs to be better in that aspect with his vision.
It’s a testament to who he is as a player though that he’s consistently fought for extra yards even in ugly offensive performances overall from the Steelers. Things will start to click at some point with the run game, and when it does, Harris will receive the praise and attention he deserves.