Film Room: Najee Harris & OL Get Back On Track Against The Saints

The Pittsburgh Steelers came off their bye week and started the second half of the 2022 season on a high note Sunday, defeating the New Orleans Saints 20-10. Pittsburgh’s running game showed up in a big way in this one as the team rushed for 217 yards with six players carrying the football including RB Najee Harris who led the way with 99 yards rushing.

The Film

When diving into the tape, it was encouraging to see both Najee Harris and the offensive line play better than what they put on tape to start the 2022 campaign. There were multiple examples throughout this game of the OL opening up holes at the LOS to get Harris into the second level. Here is one example on this zone run where Harris takes the handoff as the OL gets hats on defenders, creating a big hole up the middle. C #61 Mason Cole picks up a key block, washing #97 Malcom Roach out of the play as Harris runs through the hole. If it weren’t for getting tripped up from behind, Harris was off for an even bigger run.


Harris himself was more decisive in this contest, getting downhill in a hurry and playing behind his pads to finish the run falling forward. He was heavily criticized at times this season for being tentative and trying to shake defender in open space, but Harris played more to his strengths on Sunday. Here are a couple of runs where Harris shows more burst from the snap-to-hand off, taking the carry and runs through contact to get what he can.


Along with improved explosiveness and aggressiveness as a runner, Najee Harris also demonstrated faster processing and better overall spatial awareness to make a cut and pick up additional yardage. Watch this play where Harris takes the hand off and cuts back to the left, getting into the second level following his blocks as he finishes a successful run before being brought down.


This combination of better overall play upfront by the offensive line as well as improved awareness by Harris led to the second year back having his best performance of the season, falling just a yard short of the century mark. Prior to this game, Pittsburgh had only recorded one rush attempt over 20 yards the entire season. The Steelers had four such runs on Sunday against the Saints with Harris contributing in a major way as seen on his season-long 36-yard scamper where he followed his blocks to the hole, but bounced it outside when he saw daylight, breaking a tackle as he ran toward the sideline before getting dropped for his best run in 2022.


Najee Harris looked like he was more in a zone on Sunday against the Saints, being able to quickly process blocks and gaps quicker as they happened. This run by Harris perfectly shows that skill set on display as Harris takes the hand off and quickly cuts back off the backside of LG #69 Kevin Dotson who gets his block on the linebacker. Harris keeps running with a head of steam until he meets multiple Saints defenders in the secondary, fighting for extra yardage as #32 Tyrann Mathieu and the rest of the defense converges to bring him to the ground.


Najee not only stepped up as a runner on Sunday, but he also had some impactful plays in pass protection. Harris failed to record a reception against the Saints, but he provided Pittsburgh with quality play when asked to stay in and block like on this rep where Harris picks up #55 Kaden Elliss as Dotson passes him off, stopping his rush and picks him off to plant him into the grass.


Still, while Harris and the OL did show notable improvement in Sunday’s win against New Orleans, there are plenty of examples of the same issues that Pittsburgh has dealt with in the running game showing up on the tape. While the OL did a better job getting off the ball and generating a push upfront, there were still several plays where no push was created, and Harris was left to try and create something in the backfield. Here are two such examples where the OL either get hats on bodies or just couldn’t get a surge at the LOS resulting in stuffed rush attempts.


Harris isn’t without blame here either as there were instances of him attempting to work more east/west than getting downhill at times like he has struggled with in the past, lacking that burst to get to and through the hole before the defense converged on him. Harris also committed the cardinal sin of putting the football on the ground on Sunday, coughing the football up on this quick toss to the left where Elliss pushes the ball out as Harris tries to cut back to the right. Thankfully, OT #76 Chukwuma Okorafor gets on the ball and keeps possession in favor of Pittsburgh.



Overall, it was an improved performance by Najee Harris that we needed to see after speculation continued to grow regarding an increased role for RB Jaylen Warren at the expense of Harris’ snaps and touches. To be fair, Harris did only play 60% of the offensive snaps, but he looked fresh in those opportunities as Pittsburgh possessed the football for over 39 minutes on Sunday, the most time of possession dating back to 2014.

Harris looked more decisive as a runner and did a better job playing to his strengths as a big, physical back, running downhill with less nonsense to pick up the yardage that was there. The offensive line also must be commended for their performance as they got Harris into the second level on numerous occasions. However, there were still instances where the OL failed to get an adequate push as nine of Harris’ 20 rush attempts were successful. This showed up in his Pro Football Focus grade which was the second lowest of the season (54.2) despite posting his highest rushing total on the year.

Regardless, it was a step in the right direction for Harris and the running game as a whole as Pittsburgh looks to get back on track and finish 2022 strong down the stretch. Continued improvement and success on the ground will go a long way in how Najee Harris’ second season is viewed by season’s end and also be a good gauge on the state of the OL and what Pittsburgh should do personnel-wise to improve the unit upfront.

What are your thoughts on Najee Harris’ performance against the new Orleans Saints? Do you think he showed improvement as a runner compared to the start of the season? Did the offensive line do a better job getting Harris into open space? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!

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