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Najee Harris draft shouldn’t lead Steelers to overemphasize ‘commitment’ to run the game

Steelers team president Art Rooney II does not routinely interact with the public about the organization’s football plans. There’s usually a post-season chat with reporters, and sometimes he’ll answer questions directly from the fanbase at an event hosted by Steelers Nation United. So when he says something substantial about the state of the Steelers, it tends to grab attention.

“We have to start with a commitment to the racing game,” told reporters in January. “And that’s something I’m not sure we’ve always had.”

“We have to be a lot better in the race,” Rooney told fans two months later. “We sure don’t want the Pittsburgh Steelers to be the last in the league to rush again, ever.

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They can be two different things, and it’s essential that the Steelers don’t get them confused. A commitment to run the ball does not have to be the same as a commitment to be good at running the ball. Super Bowl champions tend to understand the difference.

Organization footballers responded to Rooney’s challenges with a variety of actions that culminated in the selection of US running back Najee Harris of Alabama with the 24th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, followed by three designed caps. to offer more flexibility and depth with the blocking patterns at the front.

“We were very happy that he was there for us. When we looked at our scenarios, we easily decided to say that if Najee Harris was available, we would choose him, ”General Manager Kevin Colbert told reporters. “He’s an exciting player. He’s a three-dimensional ball carrier. … It was easy to identify him, quite honestly.

Now the trick is not to be seduced or pressured into too much emphasis on running.

The Steelers placed last in the league for the 2021 season run, as Rooney mentioned. This statistic specifically refers to the total rushing yards gained. As easy as it is to assess, it can be a misleading measure of a team’s effectiveness in this category.

A team can do poorly in total rushing yards and be at least acceptable, and maybe even exceptional with their running play.

A more accurate measure of a team’s ability to run the ball would be yards per attempt. In this category, the Steelers also finished last. It’s hard to be terrible in this department and still be a fully operational offense. Their abject misery on average – 3.6 yards per carry – was half a yard shorter than any other team that started the 2020 playoffs with a winning record.

Over the past decade, only three other teams have finished last in yards per carrying and finished above the .500 mark, only two more have made the playoffs, and only the 2011 New York Giants have advanced. one time over there. They became Super Bowl champions, but only after improving their regular season performance by 20%.

The Steelers were also 28th in rushing touchdowns and 28th in attempts. It’s important to note, however, that running the ball a lot wasn’t a prerequisite for playoff success, which is where Pittsburgh failed in 2020.

None of the teams that reached conference championship games in 2020 ranked above 12th in rush attempts. This was where the Packers stood. The Bills were 17th, the Chiefs 23rd and the Bucs 29th.

Some analysts have criticized the Steelers for picking Harris with their first pick. Popular analyst Warren Sharp of tore up the selection by highlighting the team’s recent weak blocking and saying, “Imagine you thought an RB will fix this.” There were several issues with this statement, starting with the fact that the line for the last few seasons had been completely dismantled, and the Steelers continued to select the linemen they plan to contribute in the third (center Kendrick Green) and fourth (tackle Dan Moore).

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The line will definitely need to be better in 2020, which is why the Steelers were content to see Maurkice Pouncey retire and allow left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and left guard Matt Feiler to walk in free agency.

The only starter again in place is right guard David DeCastro. Last year’s fourth-round pick Kevin Dotson will take over at left guard. Zach Banner will return to right tackle after injuring his knee in the opener of 2020 and missing the rest of the year. Chuks Okorafor, who took over there, will pass to the left tackle. Green, if successful, will start in the center. This group may be better or worse than last year, but it won’t be the same.

The approach either. The Steelers trapping programs haven’t been working very well for a while now. They have ranked in the top third in the league in yards per attempt just twice in the past 10 years and have finished 22nd on average. Tomlin specifically mentioned, in the pre-draft press conference, “We’re capable of doing better than we have,” and by that he wasn’t talking about the Steelers in general. He was talking about the coaches in particular. There will be a modified approach under new offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

This should mean the Steelers operate differently and more efficiently. If the goal was to be the Ravens (who finished under the Steelers in AFC North 2020) or the Titans (who won the same number of playoff games), then a commitment to run more the ball would make sense. .

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