CLEVELAND — Najee Harris sat on his locker room stool long after most of his teammates had already headed toward the bus after Sunday’s 13-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
Sometimes, Harris doesn’t want to talk after losses like the one that transpired Sunday. This was not one of those times.
“It’s hard, bro,” Harris told CBS Sports. “I want to say what I really want to say, it’s difficult.”
Harris didn’t let everything out, but he did share some of his thoughts when more reporters gathered around his locker.
“We’re going to have a talk,” Harris continued. “I guess, I should say, as a team. That’s the best way I can say it. … There’s just a lot of stuff that just goes around that you guys don’t see. I’m just at a point where I’m just tired of this shit.”
Harris later said that he was talking about himself and not the team. But when asked about the Steelers, Harris said that the team’s current path is not sustainable. Harris was likely alluding to Pittsburgh’s offense after the unit struggled to score points in Cleveland.
“Is it fixable? Yeah,” he said. “Are we going to fix it? Shit …”
Harris was reminded of the fact that the Steelers are still in good shape from a record standpoint. Unlike last year, when Pittsburgh had to climb out of a 3-7 hole, the Steelers are 6-4 and entered Sunday’s game as the fifth-ranked team in the AFC standings.
“Record-wise, we’re good,” Harris said. “You can look at the record. You can do one of two things. You can look at the record and say, ‘OK, we’re still good right now,’ or you can look at the record and be like, ‘If we keep playing this type of football, how long is that shit gonna last?’ I look at it like, how long is that shit going to last? Y’all can look at it like it’s a good record, but this is the NFL. Winning like how we did is not gonna get us nowhere.”
Harris provided a glimpse into what the team’s tangible issues might be when he assessed his own performance on Sunday.
“I couldn’t get things going,” he said. “Seems like every time I got it, seems like the defense was playing to minimize my role or something like that. … Luckily, Jaylen [Warren] got going. So that was good to have him play. But even for me, they were just sitting on screens for me, blowing stuff up in the running game. I couldn’t get nothing going personally.”
This is when Harris was asked the question that has been asked countless times over the past year.
“Does it seem like the other team knows what’s coming?” a Post-Gazette reporter asked Harris.
“In some situations, to be honest with you,” Harris said.
Harris is the latest player to allude to other teams knowing what the Steelers are going to do offensively. It started with Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt last November, and it continues to be an issue.
Kenny Pickett and Pittsburgh’s struggles through the air also continues to be a black eye. Pickett, who threw for just 106 yards on Sunday, said the game plan was to make plays vertically downfield, but the Browns made a concerted effort not to let that happen. Pickett also said that the Browns put a lot of emphasis on not allowing Pat Freiermuth (who recently returned from injured reserve) to make an impact.
The Browns may have done those things, but there were several instances where they was a chance at a big play and Pickett/offensive coordinator Matt Canada instead chose the safer option.
An example of this was Pittsburgh’s third-and-15 play from the Browns’ 43-yard line with 3:35 left. A receiver appeared to get separation down the middle for what would have a been a first down. Pickett instead checked off to Warren, who gained just two yards. The Steelers punted on the next play.
Pickett’s decision in that situation makes sense. Instead of trying a lower percentage pass, he opted to give Warren a one-on-one chance with a field goal still a possibility. But plays and decisions like happen far too often, to the point where one begins to wonder where Pickett’s confidence is.
Along with the on-field issues, Harris alluded to other things that could be preventing the Steelers from reaching their potential. Harris didn’t say anything in that regard, but he didn’t have to. The one-time offensive captain had already said enough.
“I just don’t know what to do,” Harris said. “I feel like I’m just stuck in this situation where I just don’t have an answer to it. All I can do is just ride this little wave.”
Harris’ last quote was a prophetic one. An NFL season is like a wave with its ups and downs and ebbs and flows. Fortunately for the Steelers, they’re 6-4, have a good defense and the running game is turning the corner. But as long as Pittsburgh’s passing game continues to struggle, the Steelers can only go so far.