Najee Harris has every right to be frustrated. The Pittsburgh Steelers offense has been putting Band-Aids over its leaks all season just to get to the next day. It’s a strategy that has largely worked. They have scored 25 or more points just once this season, but still remain in the thick of the playoff race at 6-4.
The Steelers’ DVOA numbers in print clearly show the bond: They are a slightly above-average football team. Their defense is great, but their offense is mediocre. The problem the Steelers have with their unspectacular offense is that the worst part is the structure itself.
Harris said as much when speaking to the media following Pittsburgh’s Week 11 loss to the Cleveland Browns and their rookie fifth-round quarterback, Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Harris was visibly frustrated and made sure to express it. He even placed the blame on the offensive coaching staff. Asked if he felt opposing teams knew what was coming on offense, he took a long pause before finally answering.
“Yes, in some situations to be honest with you,” Harris said.
It was part of many vents he made during the media scrum. He also said that while the Steelers have a good record, they will not be able to continue winning the way they are playing.
Harris basically said the hard part out loud, a few weeks after George Pickens was caught on the sideline in Week 9 and expressed displeasure. Later that week, Pickens scrubbed all his Steelers content from his social media and posted “free me.” He would later deny that activity had anything to do with him being upset. Steelers’ players and coaches told the media that he was vocal about his concerns about his role in the offence.
Mike Tomlin has a knack for holding a hapless group together and getting the best out of them. However, getting the best out of less-than-ideal circumstances will only take a team so far. In this season, Kenny Pickett was supposed to take a step forward. Using 20/20 hindsight, no one should have believed this was possible.
In Matt Canada’s third season as offensive coordinator, the offense is facing the same criticism it did when Harris ran into a brick wall 307 times as a rookie in 2021. Canada’s offense is too basic and predictable. Fans, gas bags and soccer nerds everyone agrees on this.
The Steelers have seven games left on their schedule and now, one by one, their players are coming to a boil. Harris is deadpan when he says that the way the Steelers are scraping by in wins is not the way to win in the NFL.
Unfortunately for him and his teammates, this is the only way they will be able to win this season. The Steelers don’t make changes quickly, and certainly not in season. The Athletics’ Dianna Russini has already reported that the team has no plans to part ways with Canada during the season. It was mid-October during the Steelers’ bye week. She included in her report that he had the support of Tomlin and the players.
Well, looks like that kumbaya is thin. There was first an outburst from Pickens and then a measured, yet still sharp, criticism from Harris.
These tense moments are when Tomlin does some of his best work. He proved he could stop the ship from sinking and float it to the shores of a 9-8 season. However, unless the Steelers do something completely against the nature of their franchise by making an in-season change at offensive coordinator, players will sit on that shore and be sad that the ship didn’t get them where they ultimately wanted to go.