Steelers News

James Conner Continues Putting Himself In Rarefied Air Le’Veon Bell Hasn’t Breathed

It seems as though Pittsburgh Steelers second-year running back James Conner puts himself in rarefied air in new ways. After another great performance in which he rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries and 66 receiving yards on five catches for a career-high 212 yards from scrimmage, the 2017 third-round pick is setting himself apart by putting up obscure numbers.

For one thing, he now has nine rushing touchdowns in the team’s first seven games of the season. That ties him with Franco Harris, who rushed for nine touchdowns in the first seven games of the Steelers’ 1976 season. He went on to establish the franchise record with 14 rushing touchdowns that year, in a 14-game season, but Conner is on-pace to his 20 touchdowns, which would shatter the franchise record.

This was also the fourth time in 2018 that he has rushed for at least 100 yards while scoring two touchdowns on the ground. It’s the third time that he has done that in the past three games. And he is the first Steelers player to ever do that. The last player to rush for 100-plus yards and score two touchdowns on the ground was Chris Johnson when he had his 2000-yard season in 2009, setting the NFL’s record for yards from scrimmage.

Not only is he the first player to record 100 yards and two touchdowns in three consecutive games, he is also the first in team history to score two rushing touchdowns in three straight games. And his three 100-yard games in a row is something that Le’Veon Bell did not do last season.

Bell never even put together a string of three 100-yard games with one rushing touchdown. Only Franco Harris, Jerome Bettis, and Barry Foster had ever done that before (Harris doing so for six consecutive games in 1972. Harris holds the franchise record of five 100-yard, two-touchdown games in a season, while Willie Parker had four in 2006, which Conner has now tied.

There have only been 19 three-game streaks in which a Steelers running back has gone for over 100 yards on the ground, Conner being the most recent. He could be the eighth to extend it to at least four games if he does so against the Baltimore Ravens next week. Bell had just one streak of at least three games, doing so in four games during the 2016 season. Harris (six) and Bettis (five) are the only two with more than four games in a row. Harris scored eight times on the ground (and once through the air) during his six-game streak.

For the moment, Conner is averaging over 130 yards from scrimmage per game, on pace to go over 2100 for the season. His 599 rushing yards are the most in the AFC and the third-most in the NFL behind only Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott, Gurley having not yet had a bye week.

I think it’s time to acknowledge a simple reality. Conner is not simply having a good season. He is having a Pro Bowl season. This is a Pro Bowl running game led by a Pro Bowl running back who has forced more missed tackles than anybody in the league as a dual threat, Gurley and Kareem Hunt the only players in the NFL with more than his nine touchdowns (tied with Melvin Gordon).

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