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Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22) dives into the end zone with Las Vegas Raiders defensive back Johnathan Abram (24) defending for a touchdown in the second half of a football game of the NFL in Pittsburgh on Sunday, September 19, 2021 (AP Photo / Keith Srakocic)

PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney set the mandate weeks after seeing his team blown up at home by Cleveland in the first round of the 2020 playoffs.

“Everyone in the building agrees that you can’t finish 32nd in the league in running and feel like you’re going to have a successful season,” Rooney said in late January.

Almost all of the offensive decisions made by the Steelers during the offseason were aimed at fixing the problem. The offensive coordinator? Fired. The coach of the offensive line? Same. Their top four picks in the draft were used against a running back (Najee Harris), tight end (Pat Freiermuth) and a pair of raw but talented linemen (Kendrick Green and Dan Moore Jr.).

And two weeks after 2021, little progress has been made. The Steelers are 31st in the league in rushing yards (57 yards per game) and 30th in yards per carry (3.3). Take out a 25-yard run from wide receiver Chase Claypool in Game 1 against Buffalo and those numbers drop to 45 yards per game and 2.6 yards per carry.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has repeatedly emphasized following a 26-17 loss to Las Vegas on Sunday that brought Pittsburgh down to 1-1 that it needed to play better.

Maybe, but the 39-year-old finds himself in the same position as 10 months ago: as the best of his team and for now the only option to move the ball.

The Raiders gave 103 yards to largely unknown Baltimore running backs in a Week 1 overtime win (not to mention the 86 accumulated by Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson). Harris only ran 10 times for 38 yards.

Only one of those points – a 14-yard burst in the first quarter that helped the Steelers out of a hole – came on a perfectly blocked play.

Otherwise, Harris largely found himself surrounded by white jerseys as he reached the line of scrimmage.

“We’ve had a few moments, but like anything else, we just have to find ways to improve more, to correct our flaws, to correct our mistakes,” said Harris.

Roethlisberger pointed out ahead of Week 1 against Buffalo that there would be growing pains, as you would expect when you have three newcomers to Moore, Green and Trai Turner on the line next to a second player. year in guard Kevin Dotson and tackle Chuks Okorafor, who remains somewhat of a draft in his fourth season.

Yet the pains are not just metaphorical. With the race match going nowhere, the Raiders started on Roethlisberger. He was sacked twice and beaten 10 times.

Despite all the problems Pittsburgh faced in the 2020 running game, the only thing the line managed to do was hold Roethlisberger upright, allowing just 14 sacks in 615 dropouts. He’s already taken four sacks in two games and avoided just a few more by throwing them under great strain.

“There were times we looked good and a lot of times we didn’t,” Roethlisberger said. “So you have to understand it.”

Dividing a pair of games against two teams with legitimate playoff aspirations is hardly a cause for panic, especially with an extra week added to the schedule.

Still, the Steelers have little leeway when playing in the AFC North. They failed to build their way against the Bills and looked a lot like the group that finished 2020 on a slide 1-5.

When asked if he thinks the offense can pull itself together on the fly, Roethlisberger nodded.

– I hope so, he said. “A division opponent is coming here next week (in Cincinnati).”

The Steelers have dominated the series with the Bengals, winning 14 of the last 16 meetings. To take Cincinnati for granted, however, would be misguided. The Bengals packed Pittsburgh 27-17 last December, even with quarterback Ryan Finley replacing injured Joe Burrow.

WHAT WORKS

Even with defensive line veteran Tyson Alualu after breaking his ankle in the first quarter, the Pittsburgh defense line kept the Raiders in check on the ground. Led by Cam Heyward, the Steelers limited Las Vegas to 52 rushing yards. Pittsburgh placed Alualu in the injured reserve on Monday and promoted Henry Mondeaux from the practice squad.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The coaches room. Star linebacker TJ Watt, inside linebacker Devin Bush and cornerback Joe Haden all suffer from groin injuries. Bush and Haden were inactive on Sunday and Watt sat on the sidelines in the second half after changing his groin at the end of the second quarter. Las Vegas quarterback Derek Carr burned the Steelers in the final 30 minutes, throwing for 263 yards and two scores.

STORE

The role of inside linebacker Robert Spillane was significantly diminished when the Steelers traded for Joe Schobert last month. With Bush out, however, Spillane has performed her role admirably. He made 10 tackles and played with the kind of effort that helped him achieve near-folk hero status last fall.

STOCK DOWN

Tight end Eric Ebron has only been targeted twice and failed to catch a pass for the first time since signing with the Steelers in the spring of 2020. Freiermuth, on the other hand, caught all four assists he got. were directed against the Raiders.

KEY NUMBER

16. The number of times Roethlisberger was shot in two weeks. Pittsburgh’s best chance to hold on is with Roethlisberger in caucus. If the line can’t create a place for Harris, it must at least be more effective in protecting the future Hall of Famer.

NEXT STEPS

Try to find some kind of rhythm in the running game against the Bengals (1-1). Cincinnati allowed 123 rushing yards in a loss to Chicago on Sunday.

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