The Pittsburgh Steelers logged 84 snaps on offense against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. And second-year running back James Conner played 74 of them. Just in the off chance that you don’t have a calculator on you, that is 88 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. That is Le’Veon Bell-level workload, something that offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner suggested he would move away from.
Last week, Conner played a roughly similar workload, but none of the snaps Conner failed to play were taken over by another running back. Instead, those snaps went to Ryan Switzer as a fourth wide receiver.
Sunday’s was scarcely different, as Switzer saw seven snaps in that role (and six more in other scenarios), but at least Stevan Ridley was able to get on the field, logging a total of a whopping three snaps, and even getting touches on two of them.
The thing is, Ridley may have only gotten one snap had Conner not suffered a minor injury that resulted in him spending a couple of snaps on the sideline to start the team’s following drive. Ben Roethlisberger checked the ball down to Ridley on first down, and the back carried for two on second down. On third and three, the team moved to a four-receiver set, which resulted in a three-and-out.
That drive ended at 1:57 in the third quarter, and the offense didn’t take the field again until 13:42 in the fourth quarter, so Conner got a chance to get some extended work with the trainers on the sideline in between. He returned and played the final 19 snaps of the game, but only touched the ball two times on those plays, and particularly on his first plays back, they used him conservatively.
In two games, over about 170 or so snaps, running backs whose names are not James Conner have played a total of three snaps, and two of them were quite likely merely the result of Conner suffering a minor injury from which he returned.
What exactly happened to Fichtner’s implied plan to get other running backs more work? Was it the hole that the offense immediately dug itself that changed his plans, or simply made him forget? Was it the deficit that led him to believe that Conner needed to be on the field to give them the best opportunity to succeed and get back into the game?