PITTSBURGH — After four weeks of frustration, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rushing attack had a break through Sunday, as the offense gashed a stout Denver Broncos defense for 147 yards.
Angst quickly transformed into euphoria. Not only because the Steelers snapped a three-game skid, but because they did so showing progress with their weakest link.
“I was smiling for them,” rookie running back Najee Harris said of his offensive line. “Every time I see them smile. Because that’s a good feeling right there. It makes you want to play better.”
Right guard Trai Turner saw the joy, and maybe relief, from Harris as well.
“You can see the boost in his morale,” Turner said. “You can see that his smile is a little bit bigger, a little bit brighter. I’m just happy for him.”
Pittsburgh’s offensive line had been criticized more than any unit on the team through the first quarter of the season, but responded after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and others demanded more from them in the days prior.
“We challenged the line this week to be better in the pass game, be better in the run game, and honestly, I thought they answered the challenge, in my opinion,” Roethlisberger said.
Harris posted a new career-high and eclipsed 100 yards for the first time as a professional. Not only did he feel Sunday’s showing was a result of experience gained and chemistry fostered, but also a response to critics by the offensive line.
“Experience,” Harris said. “The more games we’re playing. The more time that we get to build better relationships. The more times that you guys criticize us. I guess it’s really making them really want to be better and do better, and they it showed today.”
For Turner, Sunday’s showing came down to gradual improvement and individuals playing within themselves, an adage he has been preaching to his cohorts for quite some time.
“It’s never playing outside of yourself and never doing more than you can do,” Turner said. “I don’t go out there and I don’t try to play for the center, I don’t try to play for the right tackle. I play right guard. And I think as a line, when you play your position, and you try not to do too much, and you play within the confines of the team, I think good things happen. I think it’s just about us pressing and continually staying and keeping our foot on the gas pedal and getting better.”
Not only had the Broncos not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season, only one team had gone over the century mark in total in four games prior.
Pittsburgh’s rushing attack will have an opportunity to build off Sunday’s performance when they welcome the Seattle Seahawks, who own the league’s worst run defense, to Heinz Field in Week 6.