PITTSBURGH – The followers inside Heinz Area weren’t the one ones chanting James Conner’s title throughout Sunday’s 212-yard efficiency in opposition to the Cleveland Browns.
Apparently Ben Roethlisberger’s son was, too.
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“I texted [Conner] and I informed him, ‘James, it will need to have been fairly cool to have [Heinz Field] chanting ‘Con-ner, however you wish to know one thing that is even cooler — once I come residence and play catch with my son and each time he catches it he is you,'” Roethlisberger recalled on his weekly radio present Tuesday. “I stated, ‘Thanks for being a superb function mannequin and please don’t ever cease understanding that the whole lot you do you’ve an opportunity to be an incredible function mannequin.'”
The Conner undertaking is off to a roaring seven-game begin, which does not low cost Le’Veon Bell’s brilliance on the sphere over 5 seasons. But it surely does elevate questions on how the Steelers ought to deal with the working again place when Bell returns.
One apparent query is, ought to the Steelers experience the new hand?
If constructing an NFL group, a full-strength Bell over Conner is the logical decide. The Steelers would in all probability make that decide. Bell is an All-Professional with a flexible ability set not seen for the reason that days of Marshall Faulk. His uncooked manufacturing — 128.9 whole yards per recreation from 2013-17 — is unmatched for a five-year stretch.
However Bell’s two-month absence has difficult issues. Conner has 922 scrimmage yards, the second most in franchise historical past via seven video games — behind Bell’s 938 yards in 2014. His 367 speeding yards and 6 speeding touchdowns the previous three weeks are why it is “not onerous to determine” why followers chanted Conner’s title, coach Mike Tomlin stated.
Bell hasn’t touched an NFL apply discipline in practically 10 months. And although Steelers gamers are intrigued by a killer two-back system, the offense has been a one-back, workhorse assault for so long as Bell has worn the black and gold.
James Conner’s 922 scrimmage yards are the second most in franchise historical past via seven video games — behind Le’Veon Bell’s 938 yards in 2014. Mark Alberti/ Icon SportswireEven DeAngelo Williams, who rushed for 907 yards and 11 touchdowns whereas Bell was suspended and injured in 2015, light to the background when Bell returned to the lineup the following yr.
And now Conner is profitable whereas Bell watches. Though heart Maurkice Pouncey is glad he isn’t making the decision on who begins, he is aware of what has helped each have success.
The Steelers’ system.
“It ain’t only one individual,” Pouncey stated. “You must have nice gamers all the way in which round for everybody to achieve success. That’s simply how it’s. Until it’s a franchise quarterback … Some other place, that’s simply how it’s.”
So can Conner, with 9 speeding scores via seven video games, sustain his tempo?
“Oh, hell yeah,” Pouncey stated. “He’s so younger, his physique is recovering quick.”
How the Steelers play the Conner-Bell dynamic will depend on how they view Conner’s manufacturing.
On the floor, Conner in 2018 is outplaying Bell in 2017.
By means of seven video games final season, Bell rushed for 684 yards on 173 carries (three.95 yards per carry) with 4 touchdowns, and had 33 receptions for 214 yards. Conner has 599 yards on 127 carries (four.7 common) with 31 catches for 323 yards throughout that very same stretch.
Conner is tied for first within the NFL in 100-yard video games (4), video games with a number of speeding touchdowns (4) and rushes of 20-plus yards (seven), in keeping with Steelers media relations. He is additionally fourth in rushes for first downs with 30.
There’s essential context behind these numbers, although. Bell missed all of coaching camp final yr and began slowly consequently. Throughout a historic 2016 marketing campaign, Bell averaged 175 yards per recreation over practically two months.
Then there’s one issue that should not be ignored: The offensive line was invested in serving to Conner go off.
Guard David DeCastro acknowledged the road was able to show it may produce with out Bell, who drew the ire of a number of of his blockers when he did not present for the opener. Pouncey and guard Ramon Foster have been amongst those that labeled Bell’s transfer egocentric.
“Clearly we couldn’t discuss it, so let’s go on the market and attempt to make Conner look nearly as good as attainable,” DeCastro stated in regards to the feeling among the many offensive linemen in Week 1. “Only for this group’s sake — the group desires to do properly. We’re going to have to select it up and assist him do properly. He’ll have a variety of stress on him, too. All of it revolves across the group and one another. That’s why soccer’s so distinctive.”
Conner and the road responded with three straight 100-yard video games and one sack of Roethlisberger throughout a three-game successful streak.
A number of gamers have stopped brief when requested whether or not Conner ought to proceed to begin when Bell arrives. It is the safer play to reward each gamers.
However one thing should give finally, particularly with Conner proving he responds to larger workloads. Towards Cleveland, Conner had 36 yards on his first 12 rushes earlier than pumping out 110 yards on his subsequent 12.
Because it stands, it would not shock to see Conner begin not less than one recreation when Bell returns, whereas easing the versatile weapon again.
“We wish the perfect for Le’Veon,” Pouncey stated. “Simply because we stated our opinion [in Week 1] means we hated Le’Veon. No, there’s no means it must be like that. We simply wish to achieve success. It simply goes to point out when you’ve got nice gamers and with the offensive line and the receivers are blocking and the quarterback, different guys are getting double-teamed and it simply provides a possibility for a working again like Conner to excel. Clearly you have seen that.”