The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t exactly focused on personnel right this second in the immediate afterglow of a significant loss in primetime in their final home game. The offense came out very flat against the Buffalo Bills, putting up just three points in the opening half. After a touchdown drive to open the third quarter, they were blanked the rest of the way.
Perhaps the only skill player to consistently yield positive plays when he was in the game was James Conner, returning from a shoulder injury after missing the past three games, and the majority of the past six. But he was limited to just 12 touches, much of it coming early.
The third-year back rushed for 42 yards on eight carries, adding nine yards on four receptions, which is interesting, because he scored on an 11-yard reception. So he lost a net of two yards on his other three receptions, but he also gained 15 by drawing a facemask penalty late.
But it certainly didn’t look like he played much later in the game. He had five touches after the opening drive of the third quarter, on which he scored the Steelers’ only touchdown of the night, mustering up just 10 points as an offense.
There were entire drives, so it seemed, on which the team relied upon other running backs, primarily Jaylen Samuels, as had been the case in his absence, largely playing sporadically. I’m inclined to believe that this was their intention heading into the game to allow him to work himself back into football shape and to test his shoulder.
Overall, one would have to say that he passed the test, yielding a positive performance. Even his unsuccessful plays were generally due to the circumstance he was put in (such as the seven-yard loss on a checkdown reception in the second half that shouldn’t have been thrown).
When he had the ball, however, he usually made it pretty clear that he is ‘the guy’ for the Steelers out of the backfield. He had a wicked cut to juke a defender early in the third quart that led to a 17-yard run down to the 10-yard line, setting up his 11-yard touchdown reception—again making a defender miss—for plays later.
The offense did not look good tonight, and a lot of that was because of the play of the quarterback, but also the performance of the offensive line, particularly in pass protection. The running backs had to create much of their own yardage as well.
But at least the return of Conner, looking like a weapon, is a sign of hope for the final two games, which are now must-wins, or virtual must-wins in order to control their own fate. One can only hope that he is and remains healthy and can ramp up his workload from here.