CHARLOTTE – The Steelers’ rushing attack was the team’s main focus after the bye week, but it had a hiccup against a strong Baltimore Ravens front in Week 14. With that in mind, they had to respond in some way to beat Panthers, who had a rushing attack of their own. So how did they respond?
What about 45 carries for 156 yards and 3 touchdowns? It was an impressive performance for Pittsburgh, as Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren split Carolina’s lead. But the cherry on top was a dominant 21-play, 91-yard drive that ended in a quarterback sneak attack to Mitch Trubisky.
“So that was one thing we said at the half was we had to come out and start fast,” Harris said. “Because that’s one thing, sometimes we go out in the half and start slow. So for us to take that much time, we knew it was going to be a possession game because they run the ball and we run the ball. So in a game of possessions to take 11 minutes away, I was telling everybody that’s how you run the ball and eat up the clock.”
The offensive line was the unsung hero of it all. Behind a cohesive unit that is stepping up to create more lanes from the play, Harris and Warren had plenty of room to run. After not having a semblance of a rushing attack in the first half of the season, the Steelers are suddenly growing into one of the most feared units in the NFL when lined up by opposing teams.
“Coach T challenged the offensive line earlier in the week,” Dan Moore said. “We knew what kind of game we wanted it to be. We just went out there and executed. There were all 11 boys. Najee ran great.”
However, where this increase becomes even more important is on first and second down. Pittsburgh was productive in those situations and made it a lot easier for them to move by staying in front of the sticks. Coming into the game, Pittsburgh was 30th in first down yards per game, but that should increase after this game. For Mason Cole and the offensive line that became the focus all week. And after passing, the Steelers converted 11 of 14 third downs on the day, a testament to those efforts.
“We talk all the time in our room about how we need to be efficient in the beginning,” Cole said. “If we run the ball and don’t get 3 yards, it’s 2nd-and-8 or 2nd-and-9, a good chance to throw the ball again. If it’s incomplete, then we’re in a tough spot at that point. We’ve had a lot of games where we’ve talked about being efficient on 1st down. Some of those 3-, 4-, 5-yard runs set us loose.”
The running back cannot be discounted in this equation. Harris went up for 11 yards rushing while Warren struggled for 8 yards rushing. They were productive and Warren found the end zone for his first career rushing score. It was no surprise that the running game was firing on all cylinders when the offensive line and running backs were on the same page.
“We were all out there getting a feel for each other’s game,” Warren said. “Being there, everyone was there doing their job, not worrying about anything else. It was exactly what we wanted.”
If Pittsburgh’s plan was to run the ball as well as they did, they succeeded with more than flying colors. They now go back to the drawing board as they face the Las Vegas Raiders on Christmas Eve in the Steelers’ premier anniversary of the Immaculate Conception.