CLEVELAND — The Steelers have something cooking in Jaylen Warren. It seems the more that Warren plays, the more he does with the ball in his hands, and he was the signature spark for Pittsburgh against a talented Browns defense. His 74-yard touchdown is just one of the plays that sticks out about Warren and what he brings to the field, especially with the passing game struggling.
But his metrics for the year pop out like a sore thumb. Warren leads the NFL in rushing yards over expectation (161 yards) and rushing yards over expectation per attempt (2.08 yards). Besides, in terms of missed tackles forced per attempt (0.41), he is near the league in explosive plays from the position despite being at a clear disadvantage. So, why can he only play 28 snaps per game?
As the only player doing anything against the Browns’ defense, Jaylen Warren was pulled off the field far too often for any explanation. On the second-to-last drive, Pittsburgh ran a failed screen and a stretch play for a loss of five to Najee Harris, kicking them out of field goal range. With all of that in mind, Warren sat on the sidelines and came out on the last drive, but they called no run play to him, nor did they attempt to get the ball to him in the passing game. In other words, they essentially eliminated their best weapon in the game for the last two drives, but Mike Tomlin is not sure the team has any regrets.
“I don’t. When you’re unsuccessful, you can look back and make a lot of those types of judgments,” Tomlin said. “We don’t live like that. We don’t live in our fears. We don’t second-guess. We live. I stand by whatever decisions, or play selections, or ball distributions we had today.”
Warren Deserves More
Harris is a solid player, and their complementing styles work well in the backfield; there is no doubt about that. I am not asking for Harris to be worked out of the gameplan, but there has to be situational awareness about who your best players are, and those players need to play more. 67% of Warren’s runs were deemed successful against the Browns. But he only got nine carries. That’s taking the ball out of the hands of one of your best and most efficient players.
Warren just has the all-around skillset. He is a masher in pass protection and a sparkplug in the run game. Warren has a diverse route tree as a receiver when allowed to unleash it and can win in space. In other words, he is a three-down player who impacts all game phases. Pittsburgh’s inability to find the right balance to use and unleash him in critical situations was a massive reason they lost on Sunday against the Browns. Their blunders will continue to hurt them until they look at the rotation and find a better split in critical situations.
There may be games where Harris is the one cooking, too. It’s okay to ride the hot hand sometimes. Warren was the hot hand by a long shot in this one. He deserved to have the ball in his hands in the critical moments of the game.