Harris' status up in the air, but other RBs emerged

Addressing the media just 12 hours after his team defeated the Indianapolis Colts, 24-17, Monday night, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin didn't have much in the way of injury updates.

He also hadn't gotten much in terms of sleep.

But Tomlin wasn't losing sleep because of the uncertainty surrounding the status of injured running back Najee Harris, who left Monday night's game in the second quarter with an abdominal injury. The contributions of Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland against the Colts helped alleviate some of those concerns.

Snell, who did not have a carry this season prior to Monday night's game despite being active for all 10 of the team's previous games, had 12 carries for 62 yards and a touchdown. McFarland, meanwhile, was called up off the practice squad for the first time this season and contributed six rushing attempts for 30 yards.

"I thought they stayed within their skillset," Tomlin said. "Benny is a deliberate, one-cut, downhill runner. (McFarland) is bursty and explosive and good in space. I thought they leaned on their strengths."

Those 18 combined carries for 92 yards were a significant factor in the Steelers getting a win to improve to 4-7 heading into next Sunday's game at Atlanta (5-7).

"It doesn't happen solely in the stadium. This is not a patient man's business," Tomlin said. "We never ask those guys to be patient. We ask them simply to work while they wait for the opportunity. Their work shows when they get the opportunity."

The opportunity came when Harris left the game shortly after scoring the Steelers' first touchdown of the game in the second quarter on a 6-yard run. Harris got just one more carry after that, gaining 2 yards before being shut down for the remainder of the game.

Despite not having their lead rusher, the Steelers gained 172 yards on 36 rushing attempts, with Harris contributing 35 of that on 10 carries.

Tomlin said he doesn't believe Harris' injury is a long-term issue and wouldn't rule him out from playing against the Falcons.

"I don't have an update yet on Naj and his abdomen and what that might mean," Tomlin said. "There's just not enough time since we landed and getting that looked at. As always, his participation and the quality of that participation will be our guide in terms of developing a role for him and what that might look like."

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What practice might look like on Wednesday will be quite different from a normal Wednesday as the Steelers recover from playing a Monday night road game and prepare to travel to Atlanta on Sunday.

That likely means Wednesday's practice won't be all that demanding physically, but more so mentally not just for Harris but for some others nursing bumps and bruises coming out of the game against the Colts. That could include linebackers T.J. Watt and Myles Jack, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi.

"I may do some things globally, particularly with how we work on a Wednesday, for example, in an effort to be inclusive to bring the preparation to some of those guys who are less than ready to start the physical work," Tomlin said.

But that wouldn't include Snell and McFarland, who showed they can get the job done despite not having been major pieces offensively – at least not to the level to which they had been accustomed in previous seasons.

With the emergence of rookie Jaylen Warren as Harris' primary backup, Snell and McFarland had seen their roles decrease significantly. But not only was Harris injured in Monday night's game, Warren didn't dress because of a hamstring injury he suffered two weeks ago in a loss to the Bengals.

The Steelers could get Warren back this week, but Snell and McFarland showed they can be capable contributors when called upon.

"We always acknowledge that roles never stay the same," Tomlin said. "They're ever-changing. Sometimes, it's positive. Sometimes, it's negative. This is football at its highest level. I think all guys know and understand that. That's why they walk into the building with the spirit that they do every day. You've got to earn it daily."

Continual progress: All season Tomlin has said the offensive line was a work in progress, and that progress has continually shown on a weekly basis, including Monday night in the win over the Colts.

The line blocked for an offense that put up 172 yards rushing, with Harris, missing significant time.

"Continual," said Tomlin of their progress, "but not that we're surprised by that. I think that's a reasonable expectation when you're working hard and diligently daily."

One player who has been a catalyst for that success is center Mason Cole. Cole spent much of last week dealing with a foot injury, one that he wasn't about to let sideline him for Monday night's game.

"Man, he's a sharp guy," said Tomlin of Cole. "He brings a can-do attitude. He's a winner in his approach to ball. He's a good communicator. His football intellect is really solid and it's helpful at that position in terms of the identification of protections and picking up the blitz game."

The line had some struggles against the Colts, with tackle Dan Moore Jr. getting beat several times. But Moore bounced back fast and shut the door on any issues.

"It's football," said Tomlin. "In the National Football League, you're gonna lose some downs, there's ebb and flow. You remain singularly focused on winning. When you do that, you don't tote bags of negative plays.

"That's what we asked all the guys to do. It requires a certain level of maturity and that's something that Dan has shown since Day Zero and that's why he's been such a significant contributor since Day Zero."

Making the call: After the Steelers win over the Colts on Monday Night Football, quarterback Kenny Pickett said he was given input into the play calling, which included going to Snell for a two-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal.

"Coach T(omlin) puts a lot of confidence in myself, just asks me what I like, what I don't like," said Pickett after the game. "We were in four-down territory, so we were going to go for it again on the next play if we didn't get it. I felt confident, real confident with that play and real happy we got to the end zone."

Tomlin said Pickett communicating plays he is comfortable running is part of the natural maturation process.

"I think it's a natural progression," said Tomlin. "I just think the more he gains experience, the more he's engaged in the process of game readiness. The more there's a give and take and communication in terms of what's appropriate from a play selection standpoint. Just natural business in terms of dealing with quarterbacks and their inclusion in the process."