It is not quite a three headed monster but the Pittsburgh Steelers certainly have a lot of depth and promise at the running back position with the likes of James Conner, Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell Jr. While neither Conner nor the other two backs have taken the league by storm, all three running backs have answered the bell when called upon this season.
With the Steelers forced to start a quarterback not named Ben Roethlisberger for the rest of the year, there has been an important emphasis on the running backs. That starts at the top with Conner, the top dog in the running back room. And while there is no challenging the notion that Conner’s 235 rushing yards or 3.2 yards per carry is a disappointing figure, his role in this offense has meant a lot more than just running the football.
Conner’s receiving totals nearly match his rushing totals as he is second on the team in receiving yards with 231 yards. The Steelers have checked it down to the third year running back a lot this season and he has done wonders with the ball in his hand as only six other running backs have more receiving yards than Conner this season.
Behind Conner in the running back room are two younger backs who have chomped at the bit this season with both Samuels and Snell playing important roles in each of the two Steelers’ victories this season.
In a week four contest against the Cincinnati Bengals, Samuels spearheaded the wildcat movement, recording 26 rushing yards, 57 receiving yards and 31 passing yards as the Steelers coasted to a 27-3 victory. The swiss army knife of the group, Samuels’ versatility has been a pleasant wrinkle to the offense this season.
A knee surgery kept Samuels out of the Steelers’ last matchup but that did not stop the running backs from operating with the same efficiency. This time it was Snell who stepped in and grinded his way to 75 rushing yards and 14 receiving yards.
It should come to no surprise that the Steelers’ lone two victories this season have also been the games in which the running backs have been the focus of the game plan. Without an experienced quarterback, the Steelers were always going to have to lean on their running backs to make life a lot easier on the offense and they have done just that against the Bengals and Chargers.
The Steelers recorded just 256 total yards of offense against the Chargers with Snell and Conner accounting for 208 yards of that alone. It was the exact same story against the Bengals as the three headed trio of Conner, Samuels and Snell combined for 209 yards from scrimmage.
With a receiving core that is very top heavy, the Steelers were always going to have to dig for something special from this offense and luckily for them, each running back brings something special to the table. Conner brings the punch as he barrels his way through defenses. Samuels brings a rare dynamic as he can be utilized in a variety of ways and Snell brings a tough running presence as he grinds out his carries.
While no one is saying that the Steelers have a three headed monster at the running back position, the team has to be encouraged as all three running backs have shown capable of carrying the load at one point or another.