There was much hand-wringing after James Conner had a handful of ineffective carries in the season opener before leaving the game with an ankle injury, which appeared to be a decision made out of an abundance of caution. It also appears to have been a wise decision, because he has looked like the James Conner of the 2018 season in the two games that have followed.
The fourth-year running back was a positive factor in both the running game and the passing game today in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ matchup against the Houston Texans, even if it didn’t always look flashy, despite being able to pick up some chunk plays over the course of the afternoon.
Conner finished the first half with 11 touches for 64 yards, including two receptions of 12 and 13 yards. He also had a long run of 13 yards, and showed some effectiveness in short-yardage running, setting up a first and goal late in the first half.
It was arguably the Steelers’ best running game of the season so far, capped off by Conner’s go-ahead 12-yard touchdown run in the middle of the fourth quarterback, by which point he had already gone over 100 yards from scrimmage, with 79 rushing yards on 15 carries and 40 receiving yards on four catches.
Considering all of the doom and gloom about him after the season opener and his injury, Conner has done a nice job of silencing critics over the next two games, comfortably averaging over 100 yards per game and a score in each one.
Now, that doesn’t mean that his health doesn’t remain a concern. Even in this game, he seemed to leave the field on a few separate occasions after taking a hit, to be replaced with Snell or Samuels. One time he had to come off because of his cleat, though.
But running back is a position at which it is a given that you are going to be banged around. You are going to touch the ball anywhere between 15-30 times in a game, especially in a Mike Tomlin offense, with the way he values a bell-cow.
And the bottom line is that he finished the game, and finished it strong. He did come up shy on a third-and-three carry late, but only after topping 100 yards on the ground for the game, for the second time in as many weeks, with a 25-yard run to spark that key clock-killing drive.
All in all, Conner finished the game with 109 rushing yards on 18 attempts, averaging 6.1 yards per carry, plus 40 receiving yards as mentioned, totaling 149 yards from scrimmage on 22 touches, or 6.8 yards per touch.
In other words, rumors of his demise have been greatly exaggerated. He had 106 rushing yards and 121 yards from scrimmage last week with a score. On the season, he now has 224 rushing yards on 40 attempts, averaging 5.6 yards per carry, plus 63 receiving yards on eight receptions, and two rushing touchdowns.