During his Tuesday interview on 93.7 The Fan, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made it clear that he thinks running back James Conner shouldn’t just be pushed to the sideline permanently when and if fellow running back Le’Veon Bell shows up and signs his franchise tag tender in the next few weeks. On Wednesday, Roethlisberger again confirmed to the media that he believes Conner now deserves some level of playing time should Bell show up after the team’s Week 6 Sunday road game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
“It’s a good thing I’m not the coach. I don’t know, I think James has done some amazing things that deserves to be on the football field,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday when asked how he would handle the Bell-Conner situation if he were the Steelers head coach. “We also know what Le’Veon is and what he brings to the table. So, I guess we’ll cross that bridge if and when it happens.”
Ben: "It’s AFC North football." pic.twitter.com/aIa3dRq9qZ
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 10, 2018
While Roethlisberger certainly has now made his thoughts known on where he stands with Conner’s future usage should Bell return in a few weeks to play out the remainder of the season, he also said on Wednesday what main benefit he believes would come from having two very capable running backs to utilize in the offense.
“Well, I think keeping guys fresh, I think that’s important,” Roethlisberger explained. “You don’t want to wear one guy down. You saw last week, James would go for a while and then [Stevan] Ridley would come in and get some blows. And I think that would be important when Le’Veon does come back that both those guys stay really fresh when they’re on the field.”
While some might view Conner’s 2018 season to date as being an up and down one from a statistical standpoint, Roethlisberger doesn’t think the Steelers second-year running back has been inconsistent in anything he’s done whenever he’s been on the field in the first five games.
“I don’t know if there’s been much down,” Roethlisberger said of Conner’s performance through the first five weeks of the season. “I mean, I guess if you’re saying in terms of rushing yards, but if you look at the overall picture of what we’ve asked him to do every week, I think it’s been going up every week. And I think that’s what gets lost in what a running back and what he’s been doing is pass blocking, picking up the blitz, catching the ball out of the backfield.
“I don’t want to jinx anything, but he’s catching almost everything I throw it to him and he’s in the right spot every time quickly. So, I know we talk about, like you say in terms of yards rushing, you may see that up and down, but in terms of just football player and running back play, it’s been going up every week.”
We’ll now wait and see if Conner can continue his upward trajectory this coming Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals on the road. The Bengals defense has shown so far this season that they can be run on as a unit as they’ve already allowed 502 yards on the ground to opposing running backs in the team’s first five games which works out to an average yards per carry of 4.69. Additionally, the Bengals defense has already allowed opposing running backs to catch 34 passes for another 287 yards.
Entering Week 6, Conner has amassed 581 total yards from scrimmage and 5 touchdowns on 106 total touches of the football. That works out to 5.48 yards per touch. Oh, and when he hasn’t had the football in his hands, Conner has been fine as a pass protector as well.
“I think he’s been doing a great job of that,” Roethlisberger said on Wednesday. “That’s why I brought that up because he’s done more than run the ball and catch it, he’s picking up blitzes and he’s doing exactly what we ask him to do.”