It had to happen for these 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers –– and it’s fitting for Najee Harris to say it first.
“We’re taking a different approach here [on] how to do things around the building, just re-building the culture in a way,” Harris said following the Steelers’ 20-10 win over the Saints Sunday at Acrisure Stadium. “We gotta change a lot of things. We’re still building, but we’re going toward the right direction.”
Deep breath. Exhale.
Oh yes. That’s the good stuff.
After posting his best game of the season –– 20 carries for 99 yards –– Harris dropped that line, but he wasn’t done there.
Thus far in 2022, Harris provided plenty of ammo for critics. He looked slow and indecisive. His play simply wasn’t up to first-round-draft-pick standards.
More than that, he blamed the offense and his offensive lineman all too often.
No, seriously. He did that, and it wasn’t pretty.
But now, Harris mentions a culture change with the Steelers. He didn’t forget to look in the mirror, either.
His words following the win emphasize that point beautifully.
“Me and the coaches, we all got together and talked a lot about how we can fix [the running game], what I can do, really, to help it out. And today [we] showed up,” Harris said.
Indeed, the Steelers’ rushing attack “showed up” Sunday against the Saints. As a team, the Steelers rushed for 217 yards –– double their 2022 average of 108.4 rushing yards per game.
That number would be good for first in the league if they could do it on a consistent basis. Currently, the Bears lead the NFL with 201.7 rushing yards per game.
So, yeah, that’s showing up. Big time.
But Harris didn’t just show up on the field. He showed up in the locker room, too.
” … I mean, we need more of that, especially coming from me,” Harris said. “Me being the type of guy on the team, I gotta provide more like that. So we just got to build off of this one.”
No more deflecting blame, no more grumpiness from Harris. Just an honest assessment and a point-blank evaluation of what the Steelers need from him if they’re going to win in 2022 and beyond. It’s exactly what the team needs from its leader on offense.
The best part? Winning had Harris feeling some kind of way. He wasn’t done there, either. After previously saying he “couldn’t create the holes,” he had this to say about his offensive line.
“Yeah, man, the offensive line is always taking good steps,” Harris said. “Like I said, it’s just me. I gotta do better. [The] offensive line played their ass off, you know what I mean?
“But they do every week, especially in practice too. I think the way we did in practice this week, moving forward to this game, we changed a couple things, we were finishing a lot more, but it all starts with them, so the line did the best, probably, so far this year.”
Keen readers will note Harris put up just 46 percent of the team’s rushing output on the day. While 99 yards on the ground represents a definite improvement upon his 45.1 yards-per-game average entering the contest, he enjoyed the help of his teammates in this one, too.
Quarterback Kenny Pickett scrambled for 51 yards, while Jaylen Warren and George Pickens added 37 and 23 yards, respectively.
That’s a team effort –– and it’s exactly what the Steelers needed.
“Jaylen, he made probably two of the most important plays of the game at the end with the catches,” Harris said of Warren’s late receptions to ice the win. “So that helped out a lot.”
It didn’t surprise him, either.
“You know, they came in and they told me this year that they’re gonna –– as in, the organization said, ‘We’re going to try to take some pressure off of you in ways where we can’t put you on the field all, whatever amount of plays I did last year,'” Harris said. “They said, ‘You need some help if you want to be here long enough.’
“So him [Warren] coming in making those two plays, that helped out a lot. But before that, I had fumbled, and that was the first fumble right there. So for him to come in there and to do all that, obviously that helped out the team, too.”
There’s no doubt about it: That’s Harris’ best game on the field and his best postgame interview of the season. That’s what the Steelers need.
And if you want to get those towels twirling now and reinvigorate some hype?
Harris left with this.
“We still got a lot of stuff to work on.”
Not done yet. Harris isn’t satisfied with 99 yards and a win over the now 3-7 Saints. He sounds ready to lead from the front.
That culture rebuild is underway –– and it might be just what the Steelers needed.