CINCINNATI — It’s time to have the Najee Harris conversation. Last week, we had the Jaylen Warren conversation. That was a due conversation that needed to happen. But now, the Harris conversation comes up, and it’s not a hard one. While everyone salivates for Warren, and rightfully so, Harris gets propped down as an ineffective running back who does not make plays.
Warren has been exceptional. He was one of the NFL’s brightest young stars last month. But let’s keep it real for this game — he had an off-game. Warren did not force many tackles and averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. His efficiency was okay, but he averaged -6 rushing yards over expectation. Meanwhile, Najee Harris ended up on the flipside. His hard running style cracked the code for Pittsburgh’s rushing offense, as the Bengals could not stop him en route to a 99-yard performance.
“He’s our down-in and down-out ball-toter,” Tomlin said. “He doesn’t get a lot of credit because of the nature of which he plays and the style we play. But that attrition component is significant and we’re always appreciative of his efforts.”
Some of that was run blocking, as Harris averaged over four yards per carry before being touched, the highest mark of his career. But his 33 rushing yards over expectation showcases how hard running made a difference in finding hidden yardage for this team. He was the better back for this game.
“He was awesome. He was running downhill, being able to watch from a bird’s eye — view from behind — see how he was hitting the holes,” quarterback Kenny Pickett said. “He was hitting the holes hard. And it was great to have Najee and Jay (Jaylen Warren) doing their thing like they usually do. So, huge positive for 22 (Najee Harris) and our offense as a whole, putting up the yards that we put up today.”
The main point I want to make? Harris is a good player. It does not have to be either or, and some gameplans, like the soft two-high shells the Bengals gave the Steelers, are tailored to Harris’ gameplan. Their safeties were bad tackles tailored to him in space, too. Harris had his A-game on Sunday. It’s fine to play both. Pittsburgh is better for it, and most teams would love Harris on their team. It’s okay to put some respect on Harris’ game. He is a good player, and the backfield deserves to be a one-two punch, not an either-or option.