(Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)
We heard all offseason that the combination of new offensive coordinator Matt Canada, offensive line coach Adrian Klemm, and most importantly, first-round pick running back Najee Harris were going to improve the 32nd ranked rushing offense from 2020.
Well, through two games, the Steelers rank dead last in rushing yards, averaging 57.0 yards per game. Harris has racked up just 83 yards on 26 carries, an average of 3.2 yards per rush.
And the lack of production isn't Harris' fault. It's on the new-look offensive line, as they've failed to dominant the line of scrimmage and get movement consistently. Harris getting tackled in the backfield has been a common theme. Going into the 2021 season, we knew there would be some growing pains with this unit, and that has been apparent through two games.
The offensive line is starting two rookies -- center Kendrick Green and Dan Moore Jr. -- and they returned just one starter from last year in right tackle Chuks Okorafor. So, it will take some time for this group to gel, but they'll have to significantly improve fast because they haven't been much better in pass protection. Ben Roethlisberger took 10 hits and was sacked twice in Sunday's loss to the Raiders. Roethlisberger also suffered a left pectoral injury in the game. If the O-line doesn't get their act together, Roethlisberger won't make it through the entire year and the season will be lost.
Left guard Kevin Dotson says there are multiple factors to the run game not clicking. As a whole, they just haven't been able to mesh all at once.
"It's always one thing that's messing us up," Dotson said. "It could be O-line missing a block, tight end missing a block. Somebody missing a hole. It's always one thing. When we get that one thing figured out, it's going to be a great game."
And Dotson isn't using inexperience as an excuse for the lack of execution.
"We expect to be great. We can't have those mistakes," Dotson said. "They don't care if you're a rookie anymore. They don't care if you started 16 games, 20 games. They expect us to provide regardless. We have to assume we are going to be good enough to get the job done. We weren't banking on there being hard times. We are just trying to get it all together."
Adding more pre-snap motion to the offense also may help boost the run game. According to Seth Walder of ESPN, the Steelers rank 17th in pre-snap motion at 12 percent, which is surprising being that Canada made his name in the collegiate level as a pre-snap motion guru. In comparison, Kyle Shanahan's offense in San Francisco leads the league in pre-snap motion at 42.4 percent.
Why there hasn't been more motion in the offense is puzzling. Maybe Canada is trying to please Roethlisberger and not add too much pre-snap motion in the offense. This is Roethlisberger's 18th year as the Steelers' quarterback, and it is Canada's first year as an offensive coordinator in NFL, so Roethlisberger definitely has a say in what he wants.
As I mentioned back in January, I don't think we can fully evaluate Canada as an offensive coordinator until he gets a mobile quarterback. Roethlisberger is 39 years of age and can barely run outside of the pocket. I think that element is certainly limiting Canada. So Steelers fans need to be patient with Canada and this young offensive line. It will take some time to develop and grow.