The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers should be using the other running backs more while James Conner struggles during the early portions of the season.
Explanation: Conner’s fumble in the middle of the second half of yesterday’s game was, unfortunately, the big turning point in the contest. The defense had just been gifted a takeaway inside the red zone, with the offense looking to pound out clock, but the third-year back put the ball back on the ground three plays later, putting the 49ers almost right back where they were.
While the running game has not been able to get going much this season for reasons that have nothing to do with Conner—the passing game hasn’t been much of a threat, resulting in more stacked boxes, and the run blocking has left something to be desire—he has been a contributor to their failing efforts as well.
He is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry so far this season, with 97 rushing yards on 34 attempts, with one touchdown. This is a year after rushing for nearly 1000 yards in 13 games while doing so gaining 4.5 yards per carry. His efficiency isn’t where it needs to be, and he’s putting the ball on the ground.
Meanwhile, Jaylen Samuels has shown flashes during the times in which he’s been in the game. He was underutilized yesterday. And Benny Snell, they’re starting to work him in as well. If you’re not getting results from your workhorse, he doesn’t need to be your workhorse.
While his traditional statistics tell you a story about inefficiency, however, deeper analysis tells a more nuanced story. A lot of the work that Conner has gotten this year has been situationally based, and he actually has a solid ratio of successful plays.
And the simple fact of the matter is that if Conner is not going to be running effectively, Samuels likely won’t be, either. It’s not like they’re overusing the running back, so giving him some breathers will only be putting a less talented player on the field.