It’s become a common scene for the Pittsburgh Steelers after losses: standout running back Najee Harris sitting dejected on the sidelines and then inside the locker room, contemplating what went wrong and why.
Sunday night, after a frustrating 16-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday Night Football, there was Harris again sitting on the bench dejected after the loss, and then inside the locker room at Hard Rock Stadium still in his pads, wondering what went wrong.
This time though, Harris had an answer for what went wrong and why. His target? The procedural penalties offensively that hindered a group trying to move the football and score points down the stretch.
Speaking with reporters after the loss, a clearly frustrated Harris stated that the endless penalties offensively really negatively affected the Steelers’ offense Sunday night, especially in key moments of the game. On the night, the Steelers had five penalties for 40 yards.
Of course, Harris had one of the five penalties on the night, which was an illegal block above the waist on a jet sweep to Chase Claypool, turning a first and 10 into a first and 20 midway through the second quarter.
Then, in the second half four of the five penalties occurred. Right guard James Daniels was called for an illegal lineman downfield penalty again on an RPO from rookie Kenny Pickett to second-year tight end Pat Freiermuth that gained four yards. The very next play, Diontae Johnson was called for offensive pass interference, turning a second and 13 into a second and 23 quickly.
Later, there was an illegal shift by the right side of the Steelers’ offensive line on Pickett’s quarterback sneak on third and one that looked to have moved the chains, instead setting up a 3rd and 6. Next play, left tackle Dan Moore Jr. was called for a hold, turning what once was a third and one into a third and 16.
That ultimately led to a Pickett interception, ending a potential scoring drive.
The penalties are becoming hard to overcome for an offense that lacks explosion and needs to piece together an 8-10 play drive just to put up points. Stating after the game that things need corrected offensively, Harris didn’t shy away from pointing the finger directly at penalties.
“Penalties. Penalties. Pre-snap penalties,” Harris stated to reporters, according to the official transcript provided by the team. “I think that the pre-snap penalties affect us at the wrong times, at the most important parts of the game, like key moments in the game it affects us negatively. It changes up the play-calling, and obviously, penalties are killing us. Not looking at the film, just walking off the field – penalties.”
Harris is spot-on when it comes to what needs corrected offensively, at least based on what the players can control outside of the scheme.
Throughout the night the Steelers played a relatively clean game, but then when it got down to the nitty and gritty parts of the game, those mental errors popped up in a big way, resulting in some key penalties called against them that derailed what looked to be promising offensive drives.
As to how some of the issues get cleaned up, Harris was pretty blunt after the loss, stating that the team needs to practice hard, stay focused, and not complain getting back to work, not that he’s insinuating that’s what’s occurring.
Things felt pretty good coming out of the win over the Buccaneers, but if Sunday night’s loss showed anything, the Steelers are a bit of a ways away from being a good team once again, especially on the offensive side of the football.