Boy, it’s a good thing that the Pittsburgh Steelers had a Benny Snell Football on-hand during their Monday Night Football season-opening victory over the New York Giants. As it would turn out, they needed it, with James Conner checking out of the game with an ankle injury after 17 yards on eight combined touches and about a dozen and a half snaps of playing time.
The second-year back would replace him and take the majority of the remainder of the snaps out of the backfield for a Steelers offense that was able to put up 26 points on offense, including going 3-for-4 in the red zone. As a team, they gained 141 yards on the ground on 30 attempts. Snell contributed 113 on 19 attempts in his first career 100-yard rushing game.
“Going into the games, I really don’t have a mindset of how or what type of plays I get on offense”, he told reporters after the game. “Most of my workload is on special teams, so that’s what I take my pride in. Whenever my time comes on offense, it’ll come. The opportunity presented itself tonight, and I was able to get more carries than usual”.
Heading into the season, head coach Mike Tomlin seemed pretty clear in stating that the continues to view Conner as their featured three-down back, essentially saying that, provided that he is healthy, he will continue to see the vast majority of snaps.
Because of his injuries a year ago, Snell already got to play much more than was anticipated, logging over 160 snaps on offense and touching the ball on more than two thirds of those snaps, becoming the first Steelers back since Le’Veon Bell to record 100 or more carries as a rookie.
While it was just one game, Snell did look improved on multiple fronts now in his second season. From a conditioning standpoint, you can tell that he is on another level compared to where he was a year ago, best shown when the beat athletic safety Jabrill Peppers to the perimeter for a 30-yard gain. He was also effective in pass protection a number of times.
It remains to be seen the severity of Conner’s ankle injury, but the fact that they will be operating on a short week does him no favors. The good news is that it looks as though the Steelers have a suitable replacement for him, and if he misses time, that should provide some opportunities for the rookie Anthony McFarland to step on the field as well.