Now that the 2020 regular season has begun, following a second consecutive season in which they failed to even reach the playoffs, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we are seeing over the course of the season as it plays out. Who is making plays? Who is missing them? Who is losing snaps? Who is struggling to stay on the field?
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: RB James Conner
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: Head coach Mike Tomlin was not bashful in saying that the running game needs to be fixed after several games of struggles, and he expressed a good deal of optimism that the fixes will be easily achieved, which is good for their lead back, James Conner, whom he endorsed as such.
I’m sure this article is going to garner some negative reaction before people actually read the article and the argument that I am making in favor of James Conner’s stock being up headed into today’s game…or when people choose not to read beyond the headline. That’s fine. But for those who do choose to read on, here it is.
The Steelers have not run the ball well, at all, in about a month now. They have been held to under 100 yards in four consecutive games, and even bottomed out at south of 50 in the past three. But there is good news, in that the actual issues in the run game are things that can be easily managed.
The biggest problems have simply been down to blocking, particularly combination blocking and not working in cohesion. On pulls to the left or right, for example, two linemen would get bogged down in each other’s lane, or the pulling player would pick off the wrong defender. This was particularly egregious in the past game.
But these are things that are easily correctable when you place the emphasis on it, and that’s what Tomlin said that they were going to do this week. I think he was right to express optimism in this being an easy fix. There is no reason that this running game with Conner as the back and these linemen as the blockers cannot at least manage to be effective as a complement to a Ben Roethlisberger-led passing offense.
I don’t know if we will see a hard turn in the right direction today, but I believe over the course of the second half of this season, we will see a more effective running game going forward. That’s not a high bar to clear, mind you, but it’s simply a matter of putting in the work to get it corrected.