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Steelers Analysis

3 Reasons the Steelers Run Game Popped Off vs. Seahawks



Steelers RB Najee Harris
Steelers RB Najee Harris against the Cincinnati Bengals, Dec. 23, 2023 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The Steelers’ rushing attack dominated the Seahawks in their 30-23 win. It was a butt-kicking up and down the field that the Seahawks never stopped. They finished the game with 202 rushing yards and three touchdowns, all of those powering them to a massive win. But how did they catalyze all of that together? There are some scheme reasons and personnel showings.

Pat Freiermuth, TEs Block Behinds Off

The first reason is a solid reason for the team to pop off on the ground game. Pittsburgh’s tight ends cleared lanes and washed out the edges all night. Of course, the play of the night was when Pat Freiermuth, Darnell Washington, and Connor Heyward all ganged up together to help push Najee Harris into the end zone. That jokingly got Freiermuth to call for the tight ends to receive the game ball, but it makes sense. They did more than just that, and that is without being a heavy focal point of the entire offense. Seahawks safety Julian Love says they came out in 12 and 13 personnel all game and got blown off the ball.

“They honestly just had a good one-two punch with the running backs. They have some big bodies up front, they knew kind of what we are, our style for the run game, and they just got into a groove in that 13 personnel and big bodies and just tried to run the game,” Love said. “As the game goes on, guys get more aggressive trying to push to make plays, to make stops, and that’s when gaps start to open up a little more, when you just not staying within yourself. So, yeah, that was the make up of what happened.”

The offensive line helped clear lanes, too, but it was the tight ends blocking into the second level and clearing out the lanes that allowed a lot of those runs to spring free from the outset. They deserve credit for a fantastic performance.

Jaylen Warren and Najee Harris Dribble the Seahawks

Before anything schematic or even personnel-related, this is the most significant item that allowed them to crack the run game wide open. Harris and Warren combined for 80 rushing yards over expectation, with Harris having an absurd 118 yards after contact. The Seahawks were a poor tackling team in this one, but it came down to the Steelers backfield being one of the best tackle-breaking duos in the NFL. Harris and Warren are efficient in that area and are tough to bring down and it showed.

Harris is more well known, since his college days, he’s a tough runner, strong runner,” Love said. “And then 30 [Warren] just added a one-two punch for them this year, I thought. That kid’s a strong running back, with great balance, and he’s a shorter guy, so he was just kind of weaving through our defense, it seemed like. They’re two talented backs, we knew that going into the game, and we just didn’t execute well enough to stop them.”

Take that for the Steelers as one of the reasons this run game ignites every now and then. The Seahawks do not tackle well, and when you meet Warren and Harris, who run with that type of physicality and have great contact balance, they turn ten-yard runs into twenty-yard runs. Pittsburgh has a duo that carries unique traits, their tackle-breaking ability, and getting them just a little bit of blocking allows them to turn a well-blocked run into an explosive run.

Downhill Schemes

When you face a team that tackles badly in the secondary, and you feel like you have the advantage up front, go kick their teeth in, and so the Steelers did. They got their offensive line on the move on some pulls and got Harris and Warren downhill. Those gap runs really allowed the team’s physicality to pop against a Seahawks rushing defense that seemed to not want anything to do with them.

“Well the key wasn’t for me, it was for all of us,” Harris said. “Us running backs knew what we had to do to win the game. Just like last time, we had to establish the run so guys could play off of it. The receivers could make the plays, and even the certain plays that Jaylen (Warren) had that kind of sparks the offense. We have to build on that, it opens up a lot of things. Us running the ball inside a lot created a lot of good plays on the edge for guys to break runs and make plays. Establishing the run helped that a lot.”

The synergy of the downhill stuff worked well to force the Seahawks out of their two-high pre-snap. Then, they came back and attacked on-play action to get Diontae Johnson wide-open for an explosive pass. That’s synergy working together for this team, and it’s a massive reason they broke out on the ground.