PITTSBURGH (AP) — Steelers running back Najee Harris is tired of people piling on the Pittsburgh coaching staff during his team’s sluggish start.
The last time Harris checked the coaches aren’t the ones failing to make plays. The coaches aren’t the ones who can’t control the line of scrimmage. The coaches aren’t the ones who played “soft”,” as Harris put it in a 30-6 blowout loss in Houston on Sunday that dropped the Steelers to 2-2.
“We have to execute at the end of the day, no matter who is back there calling the plays,” Harris said Wednesday. “I honestly say we’re not doing that right now. Not coaches. It has nothing to do with coaches. It’s players. We have to play better.”
Something that’s been difficult for Pittsburgh to do on a consistent basis during the opening month of the season. The Steelers were drilled by San Francisco in the opener, needed two defensive scores to edge Cleveland and put together three-ish good quarters in a win over Las Vegas before getting mashed by the upstart Texans.
“Truthfully I think we’re just not playing with that edge right now,” Harris said. “That’s what we need to do better.”
Harris did not name embattled offensive coordinator Matt Canada during his impassioned defense of the staff. Maybe he didn’t have to. Canada has become a local pariah in his third season, with the crowd at Acrisure Stadium chanting for his dismissal in the fourth quarter against the Browns.
Pittsburgh’s offense has been unable to establish much of anything through four weeks. The Steelers are last in first downs, 29th in total yards and have reached the end zone all of four times in 16 quarters, or one fewer time than the starters managed during five drives together during the preseason.
Harris hasn’t reached the end zone since his last-second score against the Browns in the 2022 regular-season finale. While he’s been splitting the duties fairly evenly with backup Jaylen Warren so far in 2023, he hasn’t been quiet about his desire for coach Mike Tomlin to just let him go to work.
While Harris admits he understands the coaches are trying to ensure he doesn’t get gassed as he did as a rookie in 2021 — when his 381 touches led the league — the competitor in him wants the ball in his hands if it will help his team get going.
“In a bigger picture, I understand,” Harris said. “I might argue with (the coaches) a lot … It might look like something else that it’s not. Just as a competitor when you feel like you can do something for the team, you will want the ball I guess a lot.”
Harris ran for a season-high 71 yards against the Texans and has 33 carries combined over the past two weeks, hinting that Pittsburgh may be ready to shift back to the run-heavy focus that helped carry it to a 7-2 record over its final nine games last season.
“I think that mentality (we had late last year) is where we need to be at,” Harris said. “We did not play with that mentality last week, truthfully, to be honest with you guys. I was frustrated with that too, just looking at film, our mentality as an offense, it just wasn’t good at all.”
Harris pointed to a visit by the Ravens as a chance for the Steelers to get some of their swagger back. The rivalry has historically been one of the most physical in the NFL, last season being no exception even with longtime Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger off in retirement.
The players held a meeting in the aftermath of the loss to the Texans in an effort to get right. Harris believes the blame for Pittsburgh’s erratic play lies with the men on the field, not the ones up in the coaching box.
“I see everybody talking about this coaching stuff, about play-calling, but you’ve got to know how football works,” he said. “Coaches only can coach. We’ve got to execute the plays. We’re not trying to point the finger at all. This is not the time to do that.”
NOTES: QB Kenny Pickett practiced on Wednesday while wearing a brace on his bruised left knee. Pickett expects to be ready to play against the Ravens. … OL James Daniels (groin) and Chukwuma Okorafor (elbow) and DE DeMarvin Leal (concussion) did not practice.
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