Football is not a game in which things go exactly as planned very frequently. The Pittsburgh Steelers planned to have a running attack spearheaded by Le’Veon Bell this season, but he chose not to play on a one-year contract. His backup, James Conner, was the contingency plan, but with his success came new expectations.
Now he is sidelined for at least a week with an ankle injury, and the running game has already been struggling somewhat over the course of the past few weeks. Now they are expected to carry on without their starter, who was already supposed to be their backup.
But is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger worried? Not particularly, and there is one clear reason why. “We’ve still got our linemen”, he said
The Steelers are fortunate to have arguably the best offensive line in football this season, and that is in spite of the fact that their right tackle has been injured for the majority of the season up to this point. While they are admittedly better in pass protection than in run blocking, all five of their starters are more than capable of excelling in both areas.
Three of their starters currently lead their positions in the AFC in Pro Bowl voting, on pace to repeat their trifecta from a year ago when left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, center Maurkice Pouncey, and right guard David DeCastro all headed to the exhibition game. This year, in my opinion, each of them are even more deserving than last season.
Of course there are two components to a running game. The blocking is one of them, but the running is the other. And the backs who will be doing the running this Sunday are rookie Jaylen Samuels and Stevan Ridley. “We’ve got some guys who are willing to step up and fill the void”, the quarterback said Wednesday.
While Ridley is the veteran, and even has a 1000-yard season in his history, Samuels has earned the team’s trust and has taken over the backup role. 15 of his 17 snaps on Sunday came before Conner was injured, while Ridley did not get on the field at all.
“Ridley is a guy that has been around the league for a while”, Roethlisberger told reporters. “He has some NFL experience. He has been here for a little bit now. Samuels is someone who is new to the game, big body guy that we use in the passing game. We have specific plays and packages with him in because we want to throw the ball”.
Ridley started the Steelers’ season finale last season against the Cleveland Browns and rushed for 80 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Samuels is a player that they like in the passing game, and he has caught seven passes for 54 yards and two touchdowns.