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Ben Roethlisberger On Najee Harris: ‘That Dude Has Been Running Like A Big Dog’

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back is revamped by every meaning of the word. Over the last three games, they have 153.3 rush yards per game, which is the seventh most in the NFL. After starting off his career slowly, 2021 first-round pick Najee Harris is looking like an All-Pro running back in recent weeks. Long-time Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who Harris played with during his rookie season, gave him high praise on Wednesday’s episode of Footbahlin on YouTube.

“That dude has been running like a big dog, just like we know he can,” Roethlisberger said. “He has been hitting, running people over, just playing almost possessed. Maybe he’s saying ‘if we wanna make it, I gotta do this this and this’, but he is playing lights out right now. So [Najee], awesome keep it up, don’t stop. You are leading your team as a captain and doing what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s fun to watch. The way he’s running the ball, he’s putting the team on his back.”

In his most recent game against the Baltimore Ravens, Harris ran for a season-high 111 yards on 22 runs. According to PFF, 70 of those yards came after contact, and Harris forced four missed tackles en route to an 83.0 grade, which is his second-best on the season.

Since the bye week, Pickett is indeed running like a big dog. Indeed, since Week 10, Harris ranks sixth with 408 yards after contact, and third with 29 forced missed tackles according to PFF’s premium stats. Harris also ranks third in that span with 593 yards, and second with 141 attempts.

As Roethlisberger goes on to mention, a big part of Harris’ success can be attributed to the split in carries between him and undrafted rookie Jaylen Warren.

“Sometimes, Tomlin runs backs into the ground,” Roethlisberger continued. “Sometimes backs don’t wanna come out, whatever it is. But if you can have a good combination, why not. Right now, Naj[ee] is rested, and every time he runs the ball, look out. It’s a great one-two punch, and we’ve had two good backs in the past. For whatever reason, they haven’t substituted them much in. But now you’re seeing, that’s been awesome to watch.”

The one-two punch is indeed optimal for the run game. Harris is a perfect case study, as he did not do as well as he currently is in his rookie year despite leading the league in touches. To see the first-hand impact of splitting carries, one needs to look no further than the Baltimore game, as the duo combined for 34 carries and 187 yards en route to a victory.

Tomlin indeed ran some backs into the ground, with one example being Le’Veon Bell leading the league with 406 catches in 2017, and another being Rashard Mendenhall leading the league in carries in 2010. When healthy, it was almost a sure bet that Bell would be in the top five in the NFL in touches. The NFL is diverting towards splitting carries, which is contrary to the orthodox method of a workhorse back. In fact, the top rushing attacks in the NFL are the Ravens, Atlanta Falcons, and Chicago Bears who currently split their carries between backs.

Having a change-of-pace back gives the defenses another challenge to prepare for in the trenches, and not an easy one to overcome. Harris and Warren have differing running styles. The Steelers’ shifting towards this philosophy is one of the best adjustments they made during the season, and it’s paying dividends with strong rushing performances in line with what the Steelers are historically known for.

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