Even though James Conner was unable to suit up for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, the team still fielded a platoon of running backs whose numbers climbed up to four, with all of them contributing in meaningful ways.
Over the course of 74 offensive snaps, Benny Snell proved to be the ‘lead’ back, logging 36, which was just under half. Jaylen Samuels also saw work on 22 snaps, with Trey Edmunds seeing 12 snaps and newcomer Kerrith Whyte getting seven high-impact plays.
As a group, the four of them totaled 154 yards of rushing on the ground over 34 carries, an average of 4.5 yards per carry. Snell rushed for 98 yards on 21 carries, while Whyte had multiple big runs to produce 43 yards on just six carries. Edmunds and Samuels combined for 13 yards on four carries, but the latter also contributed three receptions for 26 yards.
It probably doesn’t happen too often that the Steelers have four running backs receive multiple touches in a game, but that’s what we saw play out on Sunday, due in no small part to the fact that their lead runner was sidelined, and the performances of his immediate replacements were underwhelming.
But James Conner liked what he saw from the group, and he believes in the committee concept, as long as everyone is on board. “First, it starts off by being unselfish”, he said during his radio show on The Fan yesterday. “Second of all, it’s just playing your role. Benny had I think 21 carries, so that, I mean, he got into his rhythm. That’s 21. They are spread out, and you’ve got to make it work”.
Snell was the closest thing they had to a lead back for the game—21 carries will do that—though much of that work came late as he functioned in the role of ‘closer’. He had seven carries in the final 5:11 of the game, and nine in the fourth quarter in total.
“And then, designed runs for certain players, K Whyte, he did the speedy routes, faster guy”, Conner went on. “Trey, Jaylen in the passing game, blocking. It just starts off by being unselfish. So I think it definitely can work as long as guys are playing their role and want to win. As long as you want to win, put that first”.
He was asked if it places an added burden on the offensive line to have to block for so many different backs, who may have very different styles of running. He conceded that it could be an issue, but added that, as Mike Tomlin says, “‘everybody’s got something dirty about their job’”.
The running backs have plenty of dirty things about their job, including picking up blitzing linebackers, and taking 20-plus hits per game. You can distribute the dirt that comes with the job if you have an effective platoon of rushers.