James Conner is a fantastic story. Pitt guy. Cancer survivors. We have heard the story many times and it is really inspiring. Conner even wrote a book.
But the Steelers need to move on from Conner as their No. 1 running back.
Conner left Monday’s game in the New York Giants in the second quarter with an ankle problem. He had six passes in 9 yards.
Conner was sidelined six games last season due to injury. In 1
That is simply unacceptable. It deprives the offense of continuity and rhythm.
Conner will recover. He may be writing another compelling chapter. It can be included in the second print of his book.
But the time has come for Benny Snell football and for Conner to be a backup. It assumes that Conner’s crazy body can handle it itself.
Snell came off the bench Monday and made the decision obvious, though what coach Mike Tomlin ultimately does is far from certain.
Snell had 113 yards on 19 carries. He has as many 100-yard games this year as Conner had throughout 2019. Snell’s 30-yard run last quarter put the Steelers’ last and catchy touchdown up.
Snell’s fumble was duly noted – JuJu Smith-Schuster rescued him with a heads-up recovery worthy of TikTok – Snell ran hard and well. He’s only 5 feet 10, but he has power.
More importantly, he does not always limp. When Snell goes down, he gets up. Snell has a key feature, Conner does not: Accessibility.
Conner was a third-round pick in 2017. Snell was a fourth-round pick last season. The difference in pedigree is insignificant. Conner is a better receiver than Snell and good at flash pickup. But none of that matters if Conner can’t play.
Perhaps Conner’s body is vulnerable because of his cancer treatment. But that’s not the Steelers’ concern. It can not be. That’s the creepy truth of life in the NFL.
Is Conner unwilling to play through pain? Is he physically unable to handle a career in professional football? These questions can reasonably be asked.
When Conner was injured Monday on top of his recent past with injury, the only two words that describe the situation are: Now that’s enough. Conner is football’s Beau Bennett. (Sorry, Beau.)
Had Conner been healthy in this, the final season of his contract, the Steelers would probably have found a way to keep him. The Steelers like the man, they like the story, and they like the player when he is healthy.
But it’s over. That’s how it should be. Conner can not trust.
Ben Roethlisberger can be.
After a dull start, Roethlisberger rusted off with an eight-play, 78-yard two-minute practice (an 85-second practice, to be exact) at the end of the first half and never looked back.
He had a zipper on the ball. The elbow seems fine. If Roethlisberger did not make all the casts, he will.
The receiving situation is convincing. The depth was exhibited, though new tight end Eric Ebron was a bit quiet and rookie Chase Claypool (who got the best catch of the night, a 28-yard toe-tapper at the sideline in the first quarter) seemed a bit underutilized.
James Washington spent the second (perhaps third) effort on touchdown catch-and-bash that put the Steelers ahead for good.
But the primary receiving components were Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson.
Smith-Schuster had six catches and two goals. His fumble recovery was a game-saver. Most importantly, he was on. Litty, myself.
Johnson had a tough start: He dampened a point in the first quarter that gave the Giants the ball at Pittsburgh 3. He and Roethlisberger seemed to use different playbooks early in the game.
But Johnson settled in, impressing with his resilience and finishing with six catches in 57 yards on a team-high 10 goals. He’s no Antonio Brown, but Johnson may still be able to take on Brown’s old role and give Roethlisberger a rhythm receiver that Smith-Schuster can complement.
Mark Madden Columns | Sport | Steelers / NFL