Here’s an interesting question: why didn’t Stevan Ridley play for the Pittsburgh Steelers in last night’s game? He was arguably the most impressive running back for them a week ago, but I believe he did not see a single snap against the Green Bay Packers.
The veteran running back was active in the passing game a week ago, gaining 45 yards through the air. While his rushing numbers looked bad, an actual look at his carries revealed some meaningful success, breaking tackles to gain what he did. Pro Football Focus awarded him the highest elusive rating from the first week of preseason games, for example.
But he was not in Head Coach Mike Tomlin’s plans last night, for whatever reason, and that’s not to say that it means much of anything, because there were other notable players who either did not play or played later in the game than they ordinarily would. He regularly warns the media at this time of year not to make too much of who is playing where and when.
Yet Ridley’s lack of playing time is definitely something that I noticed. Could it be an indication of the reality that he is the current leader in the clubhouse to be the team’s third running back behind starter Le’Veon Bell and his rapidly ascending second-year backup, James Conner?
Conner, of course, started the game, but he exited fairly early in large part because he quickly showed what he needed to. He essentially took over an entire drive on his own, breaking off two long runs, the second of which went for a 26-yard touchdown.
But after him it was all Fitzgerald Toussaint and rookie Jaylen Samuels, ostensibly the two other running backs who are competing for one, or possibly two positions on the 53-man roster. Toussaint has been around for several years but seems to be feeling the urgency of the moment. Samuels still has a lot to prove.
The fifth-round pick got a longer look last night than he did in the preseason opener, and performed much better, recording 38 yards on the ground on nine carries, which included short-yardage work. He scored a touchdown from one yard out, for example.
He also caught three passes for 13 yards, and he displayed the ability to break tackles both as a runner and pass-catcher. Getting a look at him in pass protection was also important.
But to give Ridley no work at all? I’m not sure I really understand the purpose of that unless the team is just really comfortable with where the veteran is. if he is still in the fight of his life for a spot on the team, then it doesn’t really make sense that he was not given the opportunity to run last night.