As of the time of this writing—about 2:30 in the morning—I don’t yet have a snap count for Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner in his first game back from a shoulder injury after sitting the past three games, and all but one quarter of the past six. But I’m pretty confident in judging that he saw fewer than half of the snaps.
He did record a team-high 12 touches, with 42 rushing yards on eight carries. Among his four receptions was an 11-yard touchdown, on which he did most of the work with yards after the catch. It was the team’s only touchdown of the day.
Head coach Mike Tomlin was asked after the game if there was any explicit rep count on Conner as he works his way back to health, and his response was simply that there was not. But it was pretty clear that they weren’t going to have him shoulder the load by himself—no pun intended.
The Steelers made use of all four of their running backs—Trey Edmunds now being regarded as a fullback—though neither Benny Snell nor Kerrith Whyte were given many opportunities. Each of them only saw two touches for the game, all carries.
Jaylen Samuels had just three touches, but certainly seemed to play significantly more than that. The Steelers had just 14 designed runs to 43 called pass plays, so it’s not surprising that the running back workload might have been a big thin. The group combined for just six targets in the passing game, yielding five catches.
Between the two of them, James Washington and Diontae Johnson accounted for 18 of Devlin Hodges’ 38 pass attempts, and that is including a number of targets that were thrown away, out of bounds. Nick Vannett also saw six targets, though mostly on long third-down situations, it seemed. Even Zach Gentry got his first career catch.
Conner was effective when he was in the game, for whatever amount that he was in the game. While the Steelers may or may not have conscientiously set a limit on what they would ask him to do coming back from a shoulder injury that has already been reinjured once, that is clearly how it played out.
The fact that he was able to move the ball and make some plays when he did have the opportunity, however, is a positive for the offense going forward. There were several plays on which he clearly showed that he is one of their primary offensive threats, and given what we saw without him, they will be in need of that in the very near future.