The Pittsburgh Steelers have struggled to run the football this year, and have faced some criticism that because of their inability to run the football, they’re putting rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett in a bad spot.
This week, Pittsburgh has a chance to get that rushing attack going and take some of the pressure off of Pickett’s shoulders. The New Orleans Saints have had a rough time stopping the run this season, allowing 120.9 yards per game and opponents are averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Throw in the fact that in their game last night against the Baltimore Ravens the Saints lost linebacker Peter Werner and defensive end Marcus Davenport, who are both starters, to injury in that game, the already weak rush defense may have gotten weaker. Neither Davenport nor Werner have been ruled out for this Sunday’s matchup, but even if they do play they certainly will not be at 100%.
In addition, the Saints are on a short week, and their defense was on the field for a total of 37 minutes and 47 seconds Monday night. That’s almost 2/3rds of the entire game. The Ravens were running at will against them last night, picking up 188 yards on the ground. Now, a tired and injured defense has to travel to Pittsburgh on a short week to take on a team who is coming off of a week’s rest.
Looking at the Pittsburgh side of things, they simply have not been good on the ground this year. However, with them coming off a bye week the big boys up front got a much needed rest and running back Najee Harris has gotten a week off to continue to heal from his foot injury he suffered in training camp and possibly reset from a rough start to the season.
While Pittsburgh is averaging four yards per carry on the season, Harris has lagged behind the rest of the team with only 3.3 yards per carry. Despite the calls for backup Jaylen Warren to become the starter, if Pittsburgh is going to turn their season around, Harris has to get going.
Given that this is the perfect week for him to get going, offensive coordinator Matt Canada should make it a point to get Harris the ball early. However, that does not necessarily mean he has to get the ball on a handoff, as even using the short passing game to give him some confidence before letting Harris run downhill would not be a bad idea.
Speaking of running downhill, against the Philadelphia Eagles the Pittsburgh run game looked good on draw plays. Expect Canada to call up some draw plays on Sunday to try and get the rushing attack going.
The Saints are coming in on a short week and have to travel which shortens their week even more. If Pittsburgh is going to win on Sunday they must take advantage of the New Orleans tired, injured, and ineffective rush defense. Sunday afternoon will be a great opportunity for the Steelers to finally get their rushing attack going and protect their rookie quarterback behind an effective ground game.