The winds of change may be coming to the Steelers’ backfield. A running back rotation that once leaned heavily towards Najee Harris is starting to change and shift toward Jaylen Warren over the last two games. Throughout this season, Warren has been the more dynamic of the team’s running backs. He is averaging more yards per carry and is more efficient on a per carry basis than Harris.
But until now, the snap counts never reflected it. For the second straight week against the Bengals, something happened that once again had not happened all year: Warren comfortably out-snapped Harris. Warren played 40 snaps against the Colts. Harris had 20. The duo has nearly equally split time all year, with Harris generally getting a handful more snaps.
On Saturday, Warren got 34 snaps. Harris got 26. That did not come with an opportunity cost for Harris, though. He ran the ball 19 times for 78 yards and a touchdown in an extremely efficient performance. Warren got just eight carries but added five catches. Harris’ opportunity share, despite the decrease in snaps, was far bigger. That is different than their game against the Colts, where Warren got more touches than Harris, too.
The team trusts Warren more in pass protection, and they got into situations where that was required. The Steelers were pushing the ball down the field to try and help Mason Rudolph use his aggressive mindset to do what he does best. But could that be a signal that their timeshare could be changing? Harris has been dealing with a knee injury, so it could just be that.
It seems clear that the Steelers have one back that has routinely performed better than the other, and it’s not the one that was their first-round pick two years ago, but Harris is having the most efficient season of his career, and that has to stand for something in this argument, especially after a solid game against the Bengals.
The team now has two running backs playing well, it’s just who gets more snaps, and it seems the guy who is getting some more snaps once again is Warren.