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 and James Conner will have success running the ball against the Cleveland Browns.
Explanation: The Steelers’ run game over the course of the past two weeks has left quite a bit to be desired. That has been the case, really, for the majority of the season. But James Conner had his best game of the year, rushing for 145 yards, the last time he was out on the field, before suffering a shoulder injury. And the Browns are the second-worst run defense they’ve seen this year, behind the Cincinnati Bengals.
Ramon Foster coming back should not be ignored. He also missed the past two games along with Conner, who has clearly been their most effective rusher, and was looking to be on the verge of getting himself going for the season prior to the shoulder injury.
As mentioned, the Browns’ run defense is one of the worst in the league, and the second-worst that they have faced this year. Things are lining up for them to be able to move the ball on the ground tonight, certainly.
Another thing to consider is that some of the issues in the run game the past two weeks have been the decisions of the ball carriers, understanding what holes to hit, when to cut back, and things of that nature. Both Jaylen Samuels and Trey Edmunds struggled in this department. Conner is much more seasoned in that area.
A big part of the problem with the run game has been the run blocking. While Conner is good at making people miss in space, he has had more issues gaining much yardage after contact when hit behind the line of scrimmage or between the tackles.
Conner isn’t even at 100 percent, either, and the Browns will be keying on the run defense, challenging Mason Rudolph to throw. Their run defense has improved since the bye week, as well. They had a terrible three game-stretch prior to that, giving up 618 yards on the ground in that span. In the three games since, they have allowed 290.