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2021 South Side Questions: Steelers Putting Too Much On Najee Harris’ Plate?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is underway, and they are hoping for a better outcome in comparison to last season. After starting out 11-0, they finished the year 1-4 in the regular season, and then lost in the Wildcard Round to the Cleveland Browns, ignited by a 0-28 first quarter.

They have lost a large number of key players in the offseason, like Maurkice Pouncey, Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson, but they’ve also made significant additions as the months have gone on, notably Trai Turner, Melvin Ingram, Joe Schobert, and Ahkello Witherspoon. They also added Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Kendrick Green, and Dan Moore Jr., all of whom are starting.

There isn’t much left to do but to play the games at this point. Even if they play them poorly. They still have a lot to figure out, though, such as what Matt Canada’s offense is going to look like in any given week, or how the new-look secondary and offensive line is going to play.

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: Are the Steelers putting too much on Najee Harris’ plate?

Outside of Derrick Henry, who is done for the season due to injury, there isn’t another player in the NFL who has been asked to do more for his offense in terms of touches than Steelers rookie running back Najee Harris, whose workload has only increased as the season has gone on.

It’s gotten to the point where coaches are starting to field questions from reporters on whether or not they are running the wheels off of Harris midway through his rookie season, after facing questions at the start of the year whether or not they were using him enough.

He has carried the ball more than 20 times in each of the past five games, averaging more than 24 in that span, while adding another 3.6 receptions for nearly 29 touches per game. Over a full (17-game) season, he would clear 450 touches if he were to continue the pace of the past five games.

While he has gotten a couple of nicks here and there, however, there hasn’t been anything in his game to indicate that he is showing signs of wear due to the workload. He’s not lagging or sucking air at the end of games, or running less physically.

One problem, of course, is the fact that the Steelers don’t have much else in the backfield. They can’t even seem to decide who between Benny Snell or Kalen Ballage is the next man up, and Anthony McFarland has been inactive. So if you don’t have another person to run the ball—the wide receivers frankly have been effectively the number two back—then you limit your options barring just airing the ball out.

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