Imagine being told back in August that it would take six weeks for the Pittsburgh Steelers to crack 100-yards rushing. Seems a little far fetched but a tad believable. Now imagine being told that the Steelers’ first 100-yard rushing performance of the season would be carried by the legs of rookie running back Benny Snell Jr.
A season that has been anything but believable continued with another unexpected development on Sunday night as Snell powered the Steelers to their first 100-yard rushing performance of the season. Snell carried the rock 17 times for 75 yards while James Conner added another 41 yards on 16 carries.
With an injury to Jaylen Samuels, one that will keep him out for about a month, there was a big opportunity at Snell’s disposal. The Steelers were lacking a Robin to Conner’s Batman but after an injury also removed Conner from the game, it would be all up to Snell and the rookie running back handled his workhorse duties very well.
Out of Snell’s 17 carries, six of them went for five yards or more, including a 20-yard dash in the fourth quarter. Snell now has two 20+ yard carries this season, more than any other Steelers’ running back. To make matters even better, six of those 17 carries also went for a fresh set of downs.
The rookie running back not only helped the Steelers preserve their 24-0 lead but he also helped the Steelers steer clear of the worst start in franchise history when it comes to the run game. The Steelers had failed to rush for over 100-yards in their first five games and had they failed to crack 100-yards Sunday night; it would have been the first time in franchise history they have opened a season with six straight games of under 100-yards on the ground.
Credit must also go to the Steelers’ coaching staff as they have consistently got their young running backs up to speed over the last two seasons. The Steelers have hit triple digits in rushing yards just twice over the last 13 games and both have come with a rookie running back leading the charge – Sunday night with Snell and Week 15 last season with Samuels.
Both of those occasions resulted in Steelers’ victories and they could not have been more needed. Snell helped the Steelers avoid a 1-5 start tonight, which would have made the team’s future outlook very difficult while Samuels helped the Steelers defeat the New England Patriots and keep their playoff hopes alive.
Snell and Samuels both heard the criticism before their first serious opportunity – too slow, no burst to hit the hole but both running backs got the job done. With Samuels out for a little while longer, Snell is going to have a lot more opportunities to get the job done and while he may not receive as many carries as he did Sunday night, if he can succeed even in a complementary role, it is still a job well done.
Mike Tomlin spoke about orchestrating a victory and the Steelers’ rookie running back certainly did his part and then some more to push the Steelers to victory.