Nothing can take away from the great things that second-year running back James Conner has done since stepping into the spotlight this season as the starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers. But be that as it may, he dropped the ball yesterday—literally, and multiple times.
Following an amazingly productive five-game stretch in which he scored eight times and averaged over 150 yards from scrimmage per game, Conner was held to under 50 total yards and was kept out of the end zone entirely. He was only afforded nine rushing attempts, but only amazing 25 yards on those opportunities, and his six receptions added just 25 more yards, fiving him 49 yards on 15 touches.
We’ll big deeper into the specifics of his performance throughout the week, but obviously the focal point of the day for him is going to be on the two passes that he dropped, both of which came in huge moments in the game.
But before we do that, let’s first just give ourselves a very quick reminder. Over the course of the first eight games of the season, Conner caught 38 passes on 50 targets for 379 yards and a touchdown. That’s an average of 4.8 catches and 47.4 yards per game through the air in addition to his running. And he caught over 75 percent of his targets.
Le’Veon Bell for his career averages five receptions for 43 yards per game. Conner was doing what Bell has done. He’s been very good as a receiving back, and has made some excellent catches that showed off his skill along the way.
The Pitt product told reporters at the beginning of the month when asked about why he was so much better catching the ball this year that he has always trusted his hands and known that he was able to do this, implying rather that it was only a lack of opportunity that has kept his receiving abilities previously in the realm of the unknown.
That didn’t stop him from putting the ball on the ground in two humungous, game-altering moments in yesterday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, however. First, with just under seven minutes to play, the Steelers went for it on fourth and six from Jacksonville’s 43.
Ben Roethlisberger had Conner open for the first down to the left. While he should have thrown the ball much earlier than he did. The back had two hands on it and failed to come up with the ball, forcing a turnover on downs. They were lucky to get the ball back less than two minutes later.
Several plays before the game-winning score, Roethlisberger threw it to Conner for what would have easily been a go-ahead touchdown from the 27-yard line, floating the ball over a linebacker and into the back’s hands, which he dropped. Which made it third and 10.
These were huge moments in which he failed. But they were also just moments that are already in the past. He’ll live to fight another day and continue to play at a Pro Bowl level. That was the message Roethlisberger provided to him after the game, joking to him that his drop gave the quarterback a touchdown.
“James is one of those special football players that he can’t get down on himself“, Roethlisberger said of Conner after the game. “This was an awesome test to see how he bounces back and I think he’ll be just fine”.