Steelers Urged to Make Change in Usage for RBs Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren

Jaylen Warren

Getty CBS Sports' Jeff Kerr argued that Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jaylen Warren is better than teammate Najee Harris.

Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers promised changes after the team’s second loss of the season in Week 4.

In the offensive backfield, though, the Steelers have mostly kept the status quo. Najee Harris is the lead back while Jaylen Warren sees significant time on third down.

CBS Sports’ Jeff Kerr, though, argued on October 10 that the Steelers should change how they use Harris and Warren following the team’s bye week.

“The Steelers invested a first-round pick in Najee Harris, but Warren is the better running back,” Kerr wrote. “The offensive line is bad, yet Warren seems to find a way to turn garbage into gold.

“Warren had nine carries for 40 yards (4.4 yards per carry) for a team that averaged 2.9 yards per carry Sunday. Harris is better at yards after contact per rush (3.24 to 2.53), but Warren is better at yards before contact per rush (1.12 to 0.68).”

Warren posted 40 of the team’s 87 rushing yards in the Week 5 victory against the Baltimore Ravens. Harris had 37 rushing yards but also had 5 more carries than Warren did.

Steelers Called on to Get Warren More Touches

Kerr laid out a few different ways Warren has been superior to Harris this season. But maybe the most glaring difference has been when the two backs face eight-men fronts.

Against eight defenders in the box, Kerr wrote that Warren averages 5 yards per carry while Harris posts 1.8.

Overall, Harris is averaging more yards per carry than Warren, but both are below 4 yards per rush. Harris has never posted 4 yards per carry in a season, and this year, he sits at his career average of 3.9.

Harris’ longest run of the season is 24 yards while Warren’s longest is 18. Neither have a rushing touchdown in 2023.

But Warren has popped long runs a bit more frequently. Warren has gone for 10 yards or more on a carry four times. Harris has six runs of 10 yards or more, but he’s carried the ball almost twice as often as Warren.

About 12% of Warren’s run have been at least 10 yards in length. Roughly 9.5% of Harris’ carries have been 10 yards or longer.

Kerr clarified that he isn’t encouraging the Steelers to bench Harris for Warren. Rather, Warren needs to be a bigger part of Pittsburgh’s game plan.

“This isn’t a call for Warren to be the featured back, but he deserves at least 10 touches a game,” wrote Kerr.

Steelers’ Offensive Line Problems

The biggest problem for the Steelers running game, though, isn’t who is carrying the ball. It’s the blocking along the offensive line.

Pro Football Focus has the Steelers ranked 22nd in run blocking after Week 5. The offensive line doesn’t have a run-blocking grade better than 64.1 (out of 100) in any of the five games this season.

None of Pittsburgh’s starting five offensive linemen heading into the season have a run blocking grade above 62.2.

The good news is it’s possible that Pittsburgh’s run blocking will improve after the bye week. Rookie left tackle Broderick Jones started his first game in Week 5 and played very well. At PFF, he earned a 77.2 run-blocking grade against the Ravens.

If Jones can build off that performance, the Steelers have at least one part of their offensive line fixed. Then maybe more runs to the left side will jump start Pittsburgh’s running attack.

After five weeks, the Steelers are ranked 29th in rushing with 402 yards. They are averaging 3.4 yards per carry, which is 28th in the NFL.

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