Sunday, Najee Harris was Najee Harris again. If you’ve watched him all season, you know exactly what I mean. While he and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ run game have been much improved since the bye, Harris took things to a different level in yesterday’s win against the Atlanta Falcons. He looked fully healthy and oh man did he run like it.
The stats may not be incredibly gaudy, 86 yards with a long of 14, but Harris created a ton of yards on his own and ran the way he’s supposed to.
Nearly half of his yards came after contact. While the line opened several holes, Harris did his part to get more than what was blocked, the mark of a good back. He played to his size and strength and routinely kept his legs churning to break tackles and push piles.
Below’s a compilation of some of his best “angry” runs of the day. Early, late, and in between, Harris played to his full potential.
Of course, the “angriest” run of the game was his mean stiff arm on physical Falcons’ safety Richie Grant. Here’s another look at that moment. At its best, his stiff arm is among the tops in football.
If there was any doubt before, Harris’ foot injuries to start camp and in Week 1 clearly impacted the start of his season. Though he and the coaching staff tried to downplay the injury and its impact, Harris never looked anything like he did against the Falcons. Since the bye, he’s been healthier with a bit more burst and a lot more power, now with the leg drive and lower body strength to shed would-be tacklers.
It’s helped the team has rotated him a bit more with Jaylen Warren and yesterday, Benny Snell, to keep him fresh on early downs. Harris no longer has workhorse status, he’s been off third downs since Week 5, and his early down snap count isn’t as dominant as it was. Sunday, the Steelers used a three-prong approach. Harris as the starter on first and second downs with Snell spelling him while Warren kept his third down duties and wasn’t used much on early downs. It’s why he carried the ball just once. Heck, you could call it a four-prong with Derek Watt becoming a short-yardage option, 5/5 on third down attempts this season.
Mike Tomlin’s always had an alpha-back mentality. A singular guy. That has its benefits but also its clear costs. Relying on one guy to do the job, wearing him down, and being screwed if (and really, when) that guy gets hurt. That’s why the team moved on from James Conner. Talent wasn’t the issue. He just couldn’t be depended on being healthy for most of the season and not send the team scrambling for a mid-season replacement. This year, Tomlin’s come off that approach. Harris still sees a high volume but there’s a role for everyone. For Warren on passing downs and now, for Snell to see some touches after a hard-earned performance Monday night against the Colts.
That’s how Pittsburgh has run the ball for 100+ yards in five straight games and 150 in three of their four since the bye week. The Steelers have lacked a consistent and reliable run game since 2019. Now, they’ve proven they can sustain. With a rookie at quarterback and the need to play mistake-free football, this run game is a necessity the team’s finally getting.