Benny Snell, you’re next man up. With James Conner testing positive for COVID and out in Tuesday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens (assuming the game takes place), Mike Tomlin confirmed Snell will be the lead back in this week’s game. Tomlin spoke to reporters after the team’s Sunday practice.
Snell has been a backup for the entirety of his sophomore season. It’s been largely a quiet one too. Through ten games, he’s carried the ball 57 times and averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. He’s worked as the team’s short-yardage back. All three of his rushing scores this season have come from one yard out, the Steelers preferring his size and downhill running style on 3rd and short and near the goal line.
Snell started two games as a rookie as James Conner missed a large portion of the season with a shoulder injury while the rest of the Steelers’ backfield was decimated by injuries. As a rookie, Snell recorded 108 carries for 426 yards and two scores.
The biggest area where the team will miss Conner is his pass protection. Snell looked better than most rookies but Conner has been excellent in recognizing and picking up blitzes this year. It’s one reason why Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked just ten times this season. Pittsburgh doesn’t have another pass pro/receiving back on its active roster, though practice squader Wendell Smallwood is a reasonable alternative. He’s likely to be elevated to the 53 before the Ravens’ game. Jaylen Samuels, whose functioned as a two-minute back, has been ruled out due to a quad injury.
Pittsburgh’s run game has struggled over the last five weeks. Things got slightly better in their Week 11 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars but it was only a first step in getting the ground game back on track. It’ll help the Ravens are expected to be without at least a couple key players along their defensive line.