Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner practiced filly on Wednesday and this it looks like he might ultimately play Sunday night against the Buffalo Bills after missing the team’s last three games with a shoulder injury. While the Steelers didn’t have Conner in their offensive backfield for their last three games, the stable of running backs the team used in those contests against the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals certainly did an admirable job in replacing the starter.
After Conner aggravated his shoulder injury in the team’s Week 11 loss to the Browns the Steelers used running backs Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell Jr., Kerrith Whyte Jr. and Trey Edmunds in a committee-like fashion in their next three games and the quartet combined to register 357 rushing yards and a touchdown on 85 total carries. Not only did those four running backs combine to average 4.2 yards per carry in the team’s last three games, their combined successful run rate was an acceptable 48.2%.
The Steelers short-yardage rushing game from their running backs was also perfect in the team’s last three games as the four third-and-short opportunities were all converted. Snell converted three of those and Whyte converted the other one, a third-and-four against the Bengals. On first-and-10 runs, the quartet registered a 50% successful run rate in the team’s last three games.
In case you’re curious about the individual running back breakdowns in the Steelers last three games, Snell, who rushed for 202 yards and a touchdown on 53 carries, posted a 50.9% successful run rate. Whyte, who rushed for 94 yards on 14 carries in the Steelers last three games, posted a 50% successful run rate as did Edmunds, who carried the football just twice for 7 yards. As for Samuels, he registered a 37.5% successful run rate on his 16 total carries that gained 54 yards.
As mentioned, the Steelers will play the Bills Sunday night at Heinz Field and while that team does have one of the better pass defenses in the NFL entering Week 15 of the regular season, that unit hasn’t been all that great against runs by running backs. According to Pro Football Reference, the Bills defense has allowed opposing running backs to rush for 4.56 yards per carry so far this season and only seven other defenses have been worse in that statistical category.
Additionally, the Bills defense has allowed a 50% successful run rate by opposing running backs in their first 13 games and a whopping 36 runs of 10 yards or more to opposing running backs. To put that into some sort of perspective, the Steelers defense has allowed just 25 runs of 10 yards or more to opposing running backs so far this season and just 15 in total since Week 3.
With two very good pass defenses squaring off Sunday night against two young quarterbacks, whichever team runs the football better at Heinz Field might ultimately be the one that wins the game. If healthy and back to his usual self, Conner should give the Steelers running game a nice boost against a Bills defense that should be susceptible to the run. Even so, Conner surely won’t be the only one running the football Sunday night so the Steelers running game will also need a few of their other running backs to produce like they have in the team’s last three games to win the ground game.