While we haven’t heard from the team officially yet about James Conner’s status, it has been reported that he aggravated the shoulder injury that he was dealing with when he played on Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns, and that he is expected to miss perhaps the next two games for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That would mean he’ll have missed four and a half game, give or take, possibly even more, and during the first half of that period of time, the team has not been able to run the ball without him, outside of a 45-yard run from Trey Edmunds with the line opening up a big hole for him.
Once again, much of the attention will turn to second-year back Jaylen Samuels. He had a successful three-game stint starting in Conner’s place last year, but things haven’t been nearly as smooth without him on the field this time around. In fact, the Steelers are nearing historically bad rushing numbers.
Entering this game possible down both JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson, things could get quite ugly, even against the Cincinnati Bengals, on the road if they can force the offense into Mason Rudolph’s hands and produce a one-dimensional gameplan. Rudolph is coming off of a four-interception game, in which all four of his turnovers were his own responsibility. He had only thrown two interceptions that were not the result of drops prior to Thursday’s game.
So that makes it all the more important that the offense is able to present some semblance of competence on the ground. The Browns were already one of the worst run defenses in the league. The Bengals are worse, admittedly.
“Whatever his status is, I will be ready to go if he is not ready”, Samuels told the team’s website about the need for him to step up if Conner is not able to play. “If he is ready to go that is a blessing. If he is not, I have to step up. Next man up mentality”.
Each of the three running backs the Steelers have started the season with have missed multiple games due to injury. Samuels would have missed more time had it not come in the middle of their bye week. The inconsistency in personnel has taken its toll on the offense as well, but nevertheless, any running back in there at any given time has got to perform when given the opportunity.
Since returning from injury, Samuels has rushed for just 65 yards on 27 carries, averaging under 2.5 yards per attempt. He also has just 103 receiving yards despite catching 21 passes, totaling 168 yards from scrimmage on 48 touches, which is…not great.
The Steelers don’t even need great right now, but rather simple competence. Nothing better illustrates their lack of just that than their utter inability to convert on third and fourth down in short-yardage situations.