With the Pittsburgh Steelers resting a large number of their starters, skewed heavily to the offensive side of the ball, opportunities existed this afternoon for some depth players to produce. And a few of them were able to do just that. There is no clearer example of that than running back Stevan Ridley, who started the game in place of Le’Veon Bell despite joining the team less than two weeks ago.
Ridley, a 2011 third-round pick of the New England Patriots, spent his first four seasons there, winning a Super Bowl. In 2012, he rushed for 1263 yards with 12 rushing touchdowns. He recorded 2817 rushing yards in his four seasons there, but has since struggled to find gainful employment.
He signed with the Broncos in late July toward the start of training camp, having previously been unsigned, but he did not make the final 53-man roster. After the Vikings lost rookie Dalvin Cook for the season, they signed Ridley, but released him four days later.
Since then, until December 19, after James Conner suffered a season-ending knee injury, the former 1000-yard rusher was out of football. He said that he was just “on the couch” getting ready to find a new home for the 2018 season when the Steelers called him.
In just the two games in which he has been on the roster since then, he has shown it to be a smart decision, and called into question why he has not had a job since then. Last week, primarily in a closeout role in a blowout, he rushed for 28 yards on nine carries. But he opened things up against the Browns in the finale.
Getting 17 rushes, Ridley gained 80 yards on the ground, including a four-yard touchdown run. He had four rushes for 10 or more yards in the game, including one for 21 yards. And once again he was called upon to close out the game, rushing for 15 yards on second and nine.
They were able to close out the game following that run, giving him the ball three more times, on which he lost a combined three yards. He had 83 yards on his first 14 carries, averaging 5.9 yards per carry while the game was still competitive.
Of course, this will be the most work Ridley gets in a Steelers uniform this season, most likely. The team rested Bell in order to keep him healthy and preserve him for the postseason, where he figures to be used heavily. He has played over 90 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in his 15 games played, by far the most by any running back.
What he did deliver tonight was piece of mind when it comes to the depth chart. The Steelers drafted Conner in the third round hoping to find strong depth behind Bell. When they lost him, they needed to add somebody more than Fitzgerald Toussaint and Terrell Watson. So far, Ridley has looked the part.