LAS VEGAS _ After further review …
They were playing a team that had allowed its first two opponents to complete a combined 81.7 percent of their passes, the worst figure in NFL history in the first two games of a season (minimum 50 passing attempts).
The Raiders hosted the Steelers having not intercepted a pass, and with a collective three passes defensed and four sacks.
So naturally, the Steelers came out and ran the ball on their first four offensive snaps on Sunday night at Allegiant Stadium.
Those plays resulted in a three-and-out and a gain of 4, but they also set a tone.
The Steelers, after attempting an NFL-low 10 rushes in the opening weekend against San Francisco, and after ranking No. 31 in the NFL in rushing through their first two games, were not going to accept not being able to run the ball this time.
They wound up running it 31 times against the Raiders, as many attempts as they had in their first two games combined.
And they gained 105 hard-earned yards on the ground, more than the 96 they had managed against the 49ers and Browns combined.
It’s a start for the ground game, and a satisfying one given that they did it the hard way.
“Every team’s gonna play us a certain way,” running back Najee Harris explained after carrying 19 times for 65 yards in what became a hard-fought, 23-18 victory over the Raiders. “Sometimes, the run ain’t gonna be there because they pack the box. The Browns had one-high safety. (The Raiders) were packing the box a good amount, too. You just gotta make it work.
“Me and the O-Line sat down and we talked about what runs we think work best, that they like. And they asked me what I like but I never tell ’em what I like because it doesn’t matter what I like. They like these runs and they executed, so O-Line won the game for us.”
Others contributed a great deal, as well.
But the determination of the offensive line and the running backs to not accept the ground game they’d put on tape over the first two games unquestionably went a long way toward outlasting the Raiders.
They identified those plays the offensive line liked, reduced the available running game menu and stuck with those plays and with the running game.
Head coach Mike Tomlin also stuck his hand in the running game pile.
“He challenged me a lot,” Harris said. “He put up film saying, ‘Look, you need to win these 1-on-1s right here. These are looks you need to win that work out in your favor. ‘
“So it’s a challenge he gave me.”
They turned over every running game stone because an answer had to be found.
The alternative is unacceptable, unsustainable and un-Steelers-like.
“When we run the ball it opens up a lot,” Harris continued. “That’s our identity, we gotta run the ball. That’s who we are. That’s who we’ve been for my three years being here. We’ve always been a team that can run the ball. If you run the ball it opens up a lot for the receivers. It opens up a lot for the play-action, the tight ends, that’s how Pat scored his touchdown.
“We just gotta keep working.”
And running, even against teams that are historically bad against the pass.
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