While we wait to learn more about James Conner’s shoulder, an injury that he suffered in the very late stages of last night’s game, let’s just talk about the third-year Pittsburgh Steelers running back’s performance, which was his best so far of the season, and certainly the most efficient.
Topping 100 yards from scrimmage for the second game in a row, and on the ground for the first time since last year, Conner really helped to carry the offense for much of the night, especially while Mason Rudolph struggled to find his footing early on in his first action back from a concussion.
He finished the game with 145 yards on the ground, plus a touchdown, on 23 carries. He added another five yards on three receptions, but hurt himself by losing about five on his last catch. He had a big nine-yard catch that converted on third down earlier in the game.
His second play of the game was also his longest, going for 25 yards with a burst up the middle, his longest run of the season. It was indicative of the way that he ran throughout the night, showing great burst through the hole when it developed. Yet several times he also demonstrated his patience to allow blocks to develop, particularly when working off to the edge.
And, aside from all that, he had multiple important blitz pickups that helped keep Rudolph, who is increasingly showing a tendency to hang on to the ball for as long as he can when he doesn’t have an initial read, upright for most of the night.
All of that combined makes for the most complete and successful game that Conner has put together so far during the 2019 season, and is starting to make his season-long numbers look better. He entered the game with 74 carries for 235 yards, averaging just 3.2 yards per carry. After averaging 6.3 yards on 23 carries last night, he is now up to 380 yards on 97 carries, averaging 3.92 yards per carry, with four scores.
On top of that, he has 29 receptions on the year for 236 yards and another two touchdowns, giving him six scores in seven games. He scored 13 touchdowns in 13 games a year ago when he made the Pro Bowl, totaling nearly 1500 yards from scrimmage.
With the Steelers now on a two-game winning streak and having an opportunity to have two more games at home against the Indianapolis Colts and the Los Angeles Rams, it looks as though things are starting to come together.
Of course, if Conner has an injury that is going to keep him out—coupled with the health of the other running backs—that presents a major obstacle they’ll have to find a way to overcome. But whenever Conner is back on the field next, he’ll have a quality performance to look to build off of as he and the team get their season on the right track.