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‘Both Those Guys Did A Good Job:’ Canada On Balancing Snaps Between Harris And Warren

The Pittsburgh Steelers run game is seeing a resurgence. Indeed, after ranking in the bottom five in rushing yards each of the last four seasons (2018-2021), they now rank 18th. Part of this resurgence is due to the team having a reliable backup running back in Jaylen Warren to split carries with former first-round pick Najee Harris. During a Thursday press conference according to a transcript provided by the team, Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada was asked what determines the split in offensive snaps between the two backs.

“It’s both,” Canada said. “Jaylen has obviously continued to play so well that he’s earning more opportunities. But certainly, again, this started as and is still we’re trying to manage [Najee Harris] and make sure Naj is fresh throughout the game, fresh at the end of the game. We thought we ran the ball effectively last week. Both those guys did a good job. So, it’s a little bit of both.”

Canada also noted RBs Coach Eddie Faulkner, like most positional coaches, has a big hand in putting players on the field and helping delegate the rotation.

The Steelers indeed ran the ball well in their recent game against Carolina. They ran it 45 times for 156 yards, which won them the time-of-possession battle by around 13 minutes. In doing so, Harris ran the ball 24 times for 86 yards, while Warren ran it 11 times for 38 yards.

The split in snaps between the two backs is interesting. Warren’s snap count hovers around 35-40%, while Harris’ hovers around anywhere between 60-80%. Harris gets a carry on about a third of his snaps, while Warren only gets a carry on 20% of his. On the season, Harris has 211 attempts for 790 yards and 3.7 YPC, while Warren has 53 attempts for 244 yards and 4.6 YPC.

Notably, Warren is the team’s primary third-down back, where his pass-blocking and pass-catching abilities come in handy. Meanwhile, as Canada mentions, Harris is typically the go-to late-game back. Indeed, he ran the ball five times in the team’s final drive against the Carolina Panthers, compared to only three by Warren.

The days of the workhorse back are essentially over. Outside of a few exceptions such as Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans, the best rushing attacks split their carries between backs. The Steelers did not realize this last season, as Harris led the NFL in touches as a rookie and the team did not have a great rushing output. However, the team found a gem in an undrafted rookie in Warren, which is boding well for the run game.

Both Harris and Warren are likely to still be in black and gold next season. The two backs complement each other well and have different running styles that keep opposing defenses on their toes. Not to mention, Warren is a rookie, and Harris is in his second season, and both have time and room to grow.

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