The Pittsburgh Steelers had their first 100-yard runner during their 2020 season opener on Monday since James Conner rushed for 145 against the Miami Dolphins back in week eight of the previous season. And Conner rushed for nine yards on six carries against the New York Giants two days ago.
No, the production out of the backfield came instead from second-year back Benny Snell, who is now firmly entrenched as the Steelers’ number two back, especially after putting up 115 rushing yards on 19 carries against a good Giants defensive line. He is currently third in the NFL in rushing, has the longest run of the season to date (30 yards), and is only one of two players (Kyler Murray) with multiple explosive-play runs.
Where would the offense have been if they didn’t have somebody like Snell behind Conner? In Ben Roethlisberger’s first game back? At this point, that’s not a question that I would care to entertain. I choose instead simply to be pleased that Benny Snell is bringing his Benny Snell Football to the game. And so are his teammates.
“I’m really proud of the way Benny stepped up and filled in for James”, Roethlisberger told reporters earlier today. “He ran the ball hard, picked up some blitzes. I missed him on a pass, unfortunately, out of the backfield there early in the game, which I think would have been a big play”.
He’s right, too. It came on third and nine with one minute left in the first quarter, from the Giants’ 23-yard line. While they got a field goal on the next play, Roethlisberger, who was under pressure and about to get hit, sailed the ball over Snell’s head with open grass in front of him that would have easily been a first down and more.
Those are the sorts of plays that will be cleaned up over time for the offense, and which will give Snell the opportunity to demonstrate his worth in the passing game beyond being a pass protector. That was his only target of the game, and it wasn’t even close to catchable.
A fourth-round pick out of Kentucky in 2019, Snell did rush for 426 yards on 108 carries last year, with two touchdowns. But he looked like another player out on the field against the Giants, and while it certainly wasn’t a flawless performance—not even including his fumble—it showed a lot of progress, and a lot of promise as well.
As for the running game, however, one has to wonder what the shuffling along the offensive line will do. David DeCastro coming back would be a great help, of course, but the change at right tackle after just one week is unavoidable.