James Conner is a great story. Pitt’s man. cancer survivor. We have heard umpteen many times, and it is truly inspiring. Conner also wrote a book.
But the Steelers should move on from Conner as their No. 1 seed.
Conner left Monday’s game over the New York Giants in the second quarter with an ankle problem. He had six carts of 9 yards.
Conner was ruled out of six matches last season due to injury. In 17 of the Steelers’ last 21 encounters, Conner has missed the game altogether or left it early because he was hurt.
This is simply unacceptable. This denies the crime of continuity and rhythm.
Conner will be fine. He can write yet another compelling chapter. This can be included in the second printing of his book.
But now the time has come for Benny Snell to be a backup to football, and Conner to be a backup. It believes that the brittle body of Konner can also be handled.
Snell came out of the bench on Monday to clarify that decision, although what Mike Tomlin ultimately did is certain.
Snell had 113 yards on 19 carries. This year he received all 100-yard games in 2019 as Snell’s 30-yard run in Connor’s final-quarters was the Steelers’ final and clutching touchdown.
Snell’s fumble duly noted – Juju Smith-Schuster took him out with Tiktok’s head-on recovery – Snell worked hard and went well. He is only 5-foot-10, but has the power.
More important, he is not always lame. When Snail goes down, he gets up. One key capability of Snell is not Conner: Availability.
Conner was a third-round pick in 2017. Snell was a fourth-round pick last season. The difference in pedigree is negligible. Conner is a better receiver than Snell, and Blitz is good in pickups. But Connor cannot play if anyone in that case.
Perhaps Conner’s body is weak due to his cancer treatment. But this is not a concern for the Steelers. This can not happen. This is a hard truth of life in the NFL.
Is Conner not ready to play with pain? Is he physically unable to handle a career in pro football? These questions can be asked fairly.
When Conner suffered an injury on Monday while struggling with his injury, recently there are only two words to describe the situation: already. Conner is football’s Beau Bennett. (Sorry, Beawar)
If Connor had stayed healthy in this, in the final season of his contract, the Steelers likely would have found a way to keep him. The Steelers like the man, he likes the story, and likes the player when he is healthy.
But it is over. It should be. Conner cannot be trusted.
Ben Rothlisberger can be.
After the start of the dice, Roethlisberger knocked Rust off with an eight-play, 78-yard two-minute drill (85-second drill, to be precise) at the end of the first half and never looked back.
He zipped the ball. The elbow looks fine. If Roethlisberger didn’t make all the throws, he would.
The status achieved is compelling. Depth was on display, even as new tight end Eric Ibron was slightly underappreciated by the quiet and deceitful Chase Kleppul (who made the best catch of the night, topping 28 yards in the first quarter).
James Washington used a second (perhaps third) attempt at a touchdown catch-and-bash that put the Steelers ahead for good.
But the primary receiving components were Smith-Shuster and Dionte Johnson.
Smith-Schuster had six catches and two scores. His footy recovery was a game-saver. Most important, he was lit. Litti, even.
Johnson had a tough start: He mocked the punt in the first quarter that gave the Giants the ball on Pittsburgh 3. He and Rothleisberger appeared to use different playbooks early in the game.
But Johnson impressed with his loyalty and took six catches for 57 yards on a team-high 10 target. He is no Antonio Brown, but Johnson can still assume Brown’s old role and provide Rothlisberger with a rhythm receiver that Smith-Schuster can complement.
Mark Madden Column | Game | Steelers / NFL