It still strikes me whenever I read significant criticism about James Conner as a player, rather than simply about his health, because almost every time he is on the field, he shows himself to be one of the best players on it. Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns was no different, and in fact it may have been his best of the season, even with a couple of 100-yard games already.
Conner had 59 yards on the ground on 11 carries in the first half, and he also scored on the ground again, his fourth rushing touchdown in as many games. That gave him 20 rushing touchdowns on his career, becoming the fourth-fastest to 20 rushing touchdowns in team history behind Franco Harris, Le’Veon Bell, and Rashard Mendenhall.
With a three-possession lead in the second half, the Steelers worked to move their focus to the running game, and Conner continued to have success, including a fourth-and-one conversion, and later, a conversion on third and three behind a pulling Kevin Dotson.
He put himself over 100 yards in the fourth quarter on his 20th carry of the game, converting for a first down while delivering a decisive stiff arm to the Browns’ lone healthy starting safety, Andrew Sendejo, with both Karl Joseph and Ronnie Harrison out with injuries.
It was Conner’s third 100-yard rushing game of the season and third in four games. Considering the fact that he didn’t play much in the opener, checking out early due to an ankle injury, and the fact that he was able to come back the next week and look no worse for the wear, it’s all the more impressive.
There was even enough running left over for Benny Snell to get some quality work in, and he did have some successful plays to be sure, including conversions in short-yardage situations in the final 20 or so minutes of the game. He was in need of a better showing after having some issues in the past few weeks. They even got him into the end zone when Chase Claypool nearly got into the end zone for the second time of the game.
The Steelers rushing attack has been able to close out games pretty consistently throughout the season so far this year—they had three rushing touchdowns today by three different players—and that is a big reason that they are currently 5-0.
Needless to say, Conner, in his fourth season, has been integral in that process. He came into the game with 268 rushing yards on 55 attempts and three touchdowns on the ground (plus another 82 yards on 11 receptions), and has averaged four yards per attempt or better in every game so far.
Conner now has 369 rushing yards on the season on 75 attempts, averaging nearly five yards per attempt, with four rushing touchdowns. He has continued to look like one of the best players on the field when he is out there. And he has been out there a lot in recent weeks.