Najee Harris has every right to be frustrated. The Pittsburgh Steelers offense has been putting Band-Aids over its leaks all season just trying to get to the next day. It is a strategy that has largely worked. They have scored 25 or more points only once this season, yet still remain in the thick of the playoff hunt at 6-4.
The Steelers’ DVOA numbers put in print what the tape clearly shows: 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 talking to the media after 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 put some blame on the offensive coaching staff. He was asked if he feels that the opposing teams know what is coming on offense, and took a long pause before finally answering.
“Yeah, in some situations to be honest with you,” Harris said.
That was part of a lot of venting he did 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 that they are playing.
Harris basically said the loud part out loud, a couple of weeks after George Pickens was caught on the sidelines in Week 9 expressing displeasure. Later that week, Pickens scrubbed all of 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. However, Steelers players and coaches did tell the media that he has been vocal about his concerns regarding his role in the offense.
Mike Tomlin has an expertise in holding an unhappy 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. Going into this season, Kenny Pickett was supposed to take a step forward. Using 20/20 hindsight, no one should have believed that was possible.
In Matt Canada’s third season as offensive coordinator, the offense is receiving 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, gasbags and football nerds all agree on this.
The Steelers have seven games remaining on their schedule and now their players are, one by one, coming to a boiling point. Harris is dead-on when he says that the way the Steelers are scraping by in victories is not the way to win in the NFL.
Unfortunately for him and his teammates, that is the only way that they will be able to win this season. The Steelers do not make changes quickly, and certainly not in season. The Athletic’s Dianna Russini has already reported that the team has no plans to part ways with Canada during the season. That was in mid-October during the Steelers’ bye week. She included in her report that he had the support of Tomlin and the players.
Well, that kumbaya appears to be wearing thin. There was first an outburst from Pickens and then a measured, yet still pointed, criticism from Harris.
These tense moments are when Tomlin does some of his best work. He has proven he can keep the ship from sinking and float it to the shore of a 9-8 season. However, unless the Steelers do something entirely against the nature of their franchise by making an in-season change at offensive coordinator, players will be sitting on that shore unhappy that the ship did not get them where they ultimately wanted to go.
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