For the first time this season, the ground game looked completely on the same page with lead back James Conner. And it’s no surprise that the statistics bear that out. It was his first 100-yard game on the ground for 2019 after having several such performances a year ago, averaging 6.3 yards per carry with seven first-down runs.
Significant is the fact that he had five runs on the night for 10 or more yards—plus a touchdown run of nine yards, to boot. While he did have three runs for negative yardage out of 23, his success rate was about half the time, which is a healthy percentage.
The 23-carry, 145-yard, one-touchdown outing has him nominated for the FedEX Ground Player of the Week Award, which I believe he won multiple times last season, but I don’t think anybody in the locker room for the Pittsburgh Steelers is particularly concerned about that. They’re more interested in what this means for the offense, which is finding its footing with Mason Rudolph throwing the ball around more.
Said the young quarterback of Conner in the last game, he did an “unbelievable job. He came out hot early and that kind of sparked us as an offense”. He mentioned that one of the focuses of head coach Mike Tomlin and the offense heading into the game was “securing the 10-yard runs”, something they weren’t doing, to “make ourselves more of a complete offense”. They accomplished that, even ripped off a 25-yard run early in the game, the longest of the season.
“We really challenged the offensive line, which had been doing great, in that area all week, and James did a good job”, Rudolph went on. “He’s playing up there at the top of the competition of the running backs in this league. He’s a physical guy, and he really provided us with a spark today”.
Those comments, of course, came immediately after the game. In the meantime, the team is cautious about the shoulder injury that he suffered late in that contest. Conner himself said on his radio show last night that he will likely be a game-time decision, but that it’s largely going to be about pain management going forward.
While the Steelers don’t need to become a run-first team by any means, they do need to run the ball effectively when they try to. The Monday night win over the Miami Dolphins was a positive step in that direction. They also had success—Benny Snell in particular—against the Los Angeles Chargers the previous game.
If the running game is finally starting to turn the corner, then this offense can really establish itself. They’ll be able to extend drives, and something they didn’t do under Ben Roethlisberger, set up the play-action game, which should have people excited.