Over the past several offseasons, Steelers president Art Rooney II has publicly expressed his desire to see his team improve in the running game. While it was just one game, the Steelers satisfied Rooney's wishes during Sunday's 20-10 win over the Saints, a much-needed victory for a team that was off to a 2-6 start.
The Steelers also made history in the process. They became the first team in nearly 11 years to have four players have runs of 20 or more yards in a single game (h/t Michael Bertsch of Steelers PR). The last team to do so was the 2011 Panthers, who accomplished that feat with then-rookie quarterback Cam Newton under center during a win over the Buccaneers on Christmas Eve.
Led by Najee Harris' 99 yards, Pittsburgh gashed the Saints to the tune of 217 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries in Sunday's win. It marked the first time the Steelers had eclipsed 200 rushing yards in a game since Le'Veon Bell set the franchise single-game record of 236 rushing yards in Pittsburgh's late-season win over the Bills in 2016.
Harris got things going with a 36-yard run late in the first quarter that helped stretch the Steelers' lead to 10-0. It was the first 20-plus-yard run of the season for Harris, who is coming off a Pro Bowl season after leading the NFL in total touches as a rookie.
Najeeeeeeee 💨— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 13, 2022
📲 Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/E0NYNURgPa pic.twitter.com/bHnvEyKU6e
On Pittsburgh's first drive of the second half, a 23-yard run by quarterback Kenny Pickett and a 22-yard run by fellow rookie George Pickens (who scored the Steelers' first touchdown on a 1-yard touchdown run) put the Steelers in position to break a 10-10 tie. Pickett's and Pickens' runs did not lead to points, however, as Matthew Wright (who is replacing injured kicker Chris Boswell) hooked his 39-yard field goal attempt.
The Steelers' fourth and final 20-plus-yard run also didn't lead to any points, but it did help salt away the game after Pittsburgh took the lead for good on Wright's 33-yard field goal at the start of the fourth quarter.
After Pickett's short touchdown run made it a two-possession game, the Steelers got the ball back with 4:23 left. Similarly to their Week 6 win over Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh did not give the ball back to the opposing offense during the final minutes. Rookie Jaylen Warren made sure of it after ripping off a 21-yard run just after the two-minute warning. A 2-yard run on a third-and-1 play moments later by fullback Derek Watt sealed the Steelers' third win of the season.
While Harris was the workhorse, Pickett also was also a significant factor in the running game with 51 yards on eight carries. Warren, who played in 40% of the team's offensive snaps, added 37 yards on nine carries while also catching each of his three targets for 40 yards.
The Steelers' strong rushing performance on Sunday moved them to 21st in the NFL in rushing through 10 weeks. While that number isn't great, it's certainly an improvement from the past two seasons, when the Steelers finished last in the NFL in rushing at season's end.
Pickett's continued growth, continued improvement on the offensive line, and Warren's increased involvement each played roles in Sunday's breakout rushing performance. Harris, who was named a team captain by his teammates before the start of the regular season, said that intangible factors also played a factor.
"We're taking a different approach here, and how to do things around the building," Harris said after the game. "Just rebuilding the culture in a way. We've got to change a lot of things. We're still building, but we're going toward the right direction."