In spite of the fact that he has his own radio show, James Conner isn’t necessarily the most talkative member of the Pittsburgh Steelers when it comes to the media. I don’t think he will be winning any awards for his diplomacy with reporters any time soon, at least. And typically, he avoids giving up any information possible with short, cliched responses.
I thought his answer to the question of whether or not he was surprised by the last of carries on Sunday was interesting, however. The Steelers had just 14 designed runs against the Buffalo Bills, versus 42 designed passes.
“If I was surprised or not is kind of irrelevant”, he said with a shrug of his shoulders in response to the question posed by Brooke Pryor of ESPN. “Like I said, I just executed the plays that were called”. In other words, he’s not saying that he wasn’t surprised by the lack of carries.
Likely, he’s implying, perhaps unintentionally, that he was surprised. And Benny Snell also seemed to express surprise, telling Jacob Klinger that the gameplan was to run the ball more than they ended up doing. Coaches in hindsight have blamed game circumstances, but many have been skeptical of that explanation, considering they never trailed by more than a touchdown.
Devlin Hodges was the first rookie quarterback in team history to attempt even 30 passes in a single game. He attempted 38 passes in the game against the Bills. There was no circumstance at any point during that game that dictated that outcome.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that it was a bad thing, but now you have comments from multiple running backs that indicate that they expected to get more work on the ground than they got. Just 14 carries, with one being a quarterback sneak, is a rather small body of work, especially considering that the team had had success rushing the ball in recent weeks.
And it’s not as though the Bills were completely shutting down the running game. Half of their runs resulted in successful plays for the offense, and Conner himself had two carries that went for 15-plus yards.
What will the playcalling look like on Sunday against the New York Jets? They have one of the better run defenses the Steelers have seen this season. It will also be on the road, and Hodges is coming off a game in which he threw four interceptions, so all of those can factor into the decision-making process leading up to Sunday afternoon.