ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) – Last season the Steelers had and still do have a deep and talented wide receiving core with guys like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. But where they weren’t as strong offensively, actually not strong at all was running the ball.
Pittsburgh finished dead last in rushing last year with 84.4 rushing yards per game. So it’s an area they focused on improving this offseason by drafting running back Najee Harris out of Alabama in the first round.
“He’s one of those guys who as a running back has really good vision you know he can see things that a lot of other backs can’t see. There are times where he’s about to approach a hole and it may look a little cloudy and he’s able to find that opening and the real good ones they’re able to do that,” Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Wednesday before practice.
“You know you shut something off and they’re able to side step it or take a cut and find a crease and he’s one of those guys if you give him a crease he’ll find it and it could become an explosive play.”
That’s why it’s critical for the Bills to make the Steelers one dimensional in Sunday’s season opener. They can’t allow Pittsburgh to have success both in the air with all of those weapons in the passing game and on the ground.
Harris is explosive, elusive and can be so dangerous when he makes things happen on his own. The Bills have to contain those breakout plays. And Frazier knows Harris isn’t just a threat in the running game, he can do it all.
“It’s one of the things we’ve talked about as we talk about our game plan, not just with him but with some of the other players as well, yards after catch. He was a good back coming out of the backfield catching the football in college so we know that’s a part of his repertoire as well” Frazier said.
“Not only is he good in the backfield but coning out of the backfield as well so we wanna limit the opportunities for those explosive plays in the passing game as well as what he does behind the line of scrimmage.”
The Bills run defense was average at best last season so they’ll be tested stopping the run right away in week one. We’ve talked so much about the impact Star Lotulelei’s absence had last year when he opted out of the 2020 season because of the pandemic. Now his status for Sunday is up in the air as he’s dealing with a calf injury, but when healthy and a full-go, he’s expected to help in this aspect of the Bills defense.
So while the Steelers focused on improving their running game, the Bills were locked in on one key element of their defense.
“Definitely going through OTAs and training camp tackling was a big emphasis for us. It’s just something you can always get better at,” Bills safety Micah Hyde said.
“It’s something we’ve been emphasizing and something we’ve gotta show come Sunday.”
“We looked at some numbers and we just felt like that was an area that if we got better at it we would be much better in some other areas also, yards after catch, yards after contact in the run game and so it’s an area we placed some emphasis on. I think in the preseason we were better tackling. We took a look at the numbers, we had fewer missed tackles in ball games and hopefully that will carry over into the season,” Frazier explained.
Improved tackling will certainly help stop the run, especially against a back like Harris.
“It’s definitely mental. It’s a high effort, getting to the football and mentally you’ve gotta go into the game preparing yourself with what they might be doing. Some guys are stiff arm guy, some guys are just run through tackles that type of stuff so you gotta know on each and every play what type of guy is gonna try to defend himself but at the same time it’s all a mental game out there for sure, trying to tackle somebody,” Hyde said.