Matt Canada Says Najee Harris Did A Better Job Getting Downhill Against Saints: ‘I Thought Naj Was Just Being Himself’

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris had his best game of the 2022 season on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, running 20 times for 99 yards as the Steelers’ run game eclipsed over 200 yards on the ground for the first time since 2016. It was an impressive day for Harris, who has struggled to get going for much of the year, especially relative to expectations as a former first-round pick. Earlier today, offensive coordinator Matt Canada talked about what he saw different from Harris on Sunday.

“I think we saw him being more consistent hitting the downhill. I think we’d all seen that here and there and, I know we talked about it last week, him getting healthy and getting reps with the line and seeing things. But I thought Naj[ee Harris] was playing in a physical, downhill style, which is who he is. I thought he was himself. So, nothing different. I thought Naj was just being himself,” Canada said via official transcript provided by the team.

While Canada says there was nothing different, Harris hasn’t been as good going downhill as one might expect from a back of his size. Harris hasn’t hit holes super hard and has kind of danced around a bit waiting and looking for holes to open. In Week 8 against the Eagles, Harris also had a reception in the flat where he should’ve just run forward to get a first down, but instead, he tried to juke and ended up short of the line to gain. That wasn’t the case on Sunday though, as Harris took advantage of any open hole, bursting forward and picking up chunk yardage. He had the Steelers’ longest run of the season on a 39-yard run in the second quarter and was a consistent contributor for a Pittsburgh backfield that also got nine carries out of rookie Jaylen Warren.

The Harris that the Steelers saw on Sunday is the Harris they’re going to need for the rest of the season. If he’s able to build some momentum with another good game on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, I think Harris will be able to stack together some good games and look much more like the running back we saw last season. While he’s in much more of a timeshare with Warren, who has taken over as Pittsburgh’s third-down back, the less tread on him could make him more effective as we get going in the second half of the season. Harris talked about the importance of having Warren alongside him in the backfield earlier this week, and that tandem could be especially important for the Steelers as they look to rely on their defense and run game behind rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett to round out the season.

For Pittsburgh, showing they can run the ball successfully will be important. If the Steelers can show they can establish the run, not only does that make things a heck of a lot easier on Pickett and make the offense more dynamic, but it helps burn clock and keeps the defense fresh. Last Sunday, the Steelers totally controlled the game in terms of plays (79 to 45) and time of possession (38:56 to 21:04). If they can keep doing that the rest of the year, they might actually be able to be a seven or eight-win team.

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