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Najee Harris Explains How Defenses Shut Down Steelers Run Game



Steelers Najee Harris
Pittsburgh Steelers Najee Harris (22) runs the ball against the Las Vegas Raiders in an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, in Las Vegas, NV. (AP Photo/Jeff Lewis)

PITTSBURGH — Why is the Steelers run game not working? Well, there are a few reasons; some come down to execution, and sometimes, it comes down to poor schematics. But it remains true that the Steelers have yet to crack the code the 49ers put out on tape in Week 1. Since that game, each team has copied the slanting defensive linemen and defensive backs shooting gaps. Some teams have their spin on it, but it all works the same.

On Wednesday, Najee Harris revealed how teams are keying in on the Steelers’ run game and how they continue seeing the same looks on film. Pittsburgh faces one of the highest stacked box rates in the NFL right now, and it’s part of the reason the group had such success off play action against the Raiders.

Browns DT Perrion Winfrey

Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Perrion Winfrey (97) attempts to tackle Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22) during an NFL football game, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Kirk Irwin)

“The Browns did it, too,” Harris said. “I think they all saw what the Niners put on film, and they were all just jetting gaps. You know, all the double-blocks, they were just splitting them. They see run and go. But you know, they saw this as a way to stop the run against us. It’s football, we have to find ways to combat that. We have to execute at a higher level.”

In the first few weeks of the season, the Steelers offense has been rolling out more gap concepts, precisely one named duo. This concept has been around for ages. In the most simplistic form, the offensive line aims to get as many double teams as possible up front to create vertical displacement of the defensive lineman. The running back will run to the side of the tight end(s), reading the mike linebacker’s intentions on where to hit the hole.

Pittsburgh has more 12 and 13-personnel groupings featuring tight ends. So far this season, the offense has struggled mightily when running out of heavy personnel and condensed sets. They turn out to be keys for the defense who just shoots through the gaps. To fix the run game, the Steelers need to do some things better out of other spread looks in order to crack that code on the other side of the ball.