CLEVELAND — If there was one time when you wished you could read minds, it would’ve been when Najee Harris spoke following the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 13-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns —and rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who averaged 3.6 yards per attempt — on Sunday.
For more than five minutes, Harris sat at his locker stall answering questions. Some of the answers, like “I’m just tired of this s—” and “There is just a lot of stuff that goes around that you guys don’t see,” were pretty self-explanatory.
But it was what Harris didn’t say that stood out. He sounded like he was trying to avoid saying something that would get him in trouble.
Several times, he had abnormally long pauses before non-answers. He repeatedly fell back on his statement that he wanted to speak about himself, not about teammates. Altogether, it gave off strong hints that something is amiss with this team.
“It’s hard right now, bro,” Harris said. “I want to say what I really want to say, but it is difficult. We can fix it but … I am just tired of it. I am tired of this stuff, bro. I don’t know how to … are they fixable? Yeah. Are we gonna fix it? S—.”
Najee Harris is “tired of this (bleep).” pic.twitter.com/jX7gNvHE9Q
— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) November 19, 2023
Maybe it was all frustration, but maybe it wasn’t. Harris rarely doesn’t speak his mind.
Coming from winning programs in high school and college, Harris doesn’t take losing well. Now, that’s not to say that the other 52 players in the locker room were thrilled with the last-second loss in a game against a fifth-round rookie quarterback. But Harris isn’t very good at hiding his emotions.
Something was obviously bothering him after the loss. And based on how he reacted, it seems like a recurring thing.
And what has been a recurring thing with the Steelers this year? A struggling offense, suspect play calling, and a few players acting out enough that it has seeped into the public eye.
Right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor was benched for something “significant” he said during the loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars last month.
George Pickens was never benched but was notably not introduced to the crowd with the other offensive starters at Acrisure Stadium last week. This came after a game against the Titans where he was seen not congratulating Diontae Johnson after a touchdown, being the first one off the field following the win, scrubbing his IG account of Steelers-related content and posting “free me,” after a pair of games where he managed three catches on 10 targets.
Steelers’ Najee Harris, Diontae Johnson offer sage advice for George Pickens
Then there was Johnson getting visibly upset on the sidelines during the second half Sunday, which was significant enough that rookie offensive tackle Broderick Jones had to pick him up and carry him away from a member of the coaching staff. That led to a lengthy sideline talk between Johnson and coach Mike Tomlin during the give-and-take moment.
Johnson refused to talk to the media after the game, saying, “You all saw what happened.” Quarterback Kenny Pickett said he had some communication issues with Johnson, who finished with just two catches for 18 yards on eight targets, with several missed passes.
Harris was asked after the game if he thinks everybody on the team has a “team-first attitude.”
After a long pause, Harris replied, “I’d rather not talk about the team, I’d rather just talk about me, my performance.”
You read into that as you want.
Then you have the coordinator Matt Canada and the offense.
The Steelers managed 249 total yards and 10 points against perhaps the best defense in the league. That’s good until you realize that 74 of those yards and seven of the points came on one Jaylen Warren run. Pickett finished 15 of 28 for 106 yards and tossed three errant passes in a 10-10 game with 1:46 left.
It has long been said by my many pundits and former players that Canada’s offense is predictable. Harris was asked, “Does it seem like the other teams know what’s coming?”
After pausing for about 12 seconds, Harris said, “Yeah, in some situations, to be honest with you.”
Harris added later: “There have been some in the past. I just don’t know what to do. I feel like I am stuck in this situation where I don’t have an answer to it. I don’t have an answer to it, and all I can do is ride this little wave. They were just sitting on screens with me even in the run game. I couldn’t get anything going. I couldn’t get things going. It seems like every time I got things going, the defense played to minimize my role or something.”
There’s no way you watch the Steelers offense and think
“They’re calling plays to try and win the game”
— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) November 19, 2023
Harris finished with 35 yards on 12 carries and one reception for 1 yard. His 5-yard loss with five minutes remaining in a tie game pushed the Steelers out of field goal range, though it was hardly his fault. Regardless, you can’t absolve Harris of everything.
But I commend him for (somewhat) speaking his mind.
Seriously, how bad must it be behind closed doors for him to say what he said?
The Steelers are 6-4 and in the final playoff spot in the AFC, which might be a miracle. So how can you just tell Harris to shut up and sit down? No. I want him to put pressure on everybody, including himself.
This isn’t Alabama. This isn’t his rookie year. If his teammates don’t like it then they must deal with it — that’s me talking, not Harris with a vague answer after a long pause.
Look at the leader.
Tomlin spent the majority of his postgame news conference deflecting questions about the lack of offense, instead giving credit to the Browns’ defense. That is nice and all, but sometimes you would like for somebody in the organization to speak outwardly about the shortcomings.
Doesn’t Tomlin always say it is about them and not the opponent?
So, good for Harris.
This game is played with passion, and if he is passionate about things behind closed doors and is willing to somewhat bring them to light, good for him. Maybe this team needs that.
“We are going to have a talk after this one as a team,” Harris said. “That’s the best way to say it. Just all of us. Offense, I think. You can look at the record and still say we are good right now. … I look at it like, ‘How long is this s— going to last?’ You all can look at it like it is a good record, but this is the NFL. Winning how we did isn’t going to get us nowhere. Yes we have a good record but, like …”
I’ll finish it: The Steelers have no chance if they keep playing and acting like this.
(Photo: Scott Galvin / USA Today)