Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin said that James Conner would be their “bell cow” at running back. That sentiment was almost proven false. In the first quarter, James Conner was the premier back. However, he only rushed for nine-yards on six attempts. After the first half ended, the offense picked up its pace, but James Conner was sidelined. The reason is all too familiar, an ankle injury. Conner’s injury allowed second-year back Benny Snell Jr. to rise to the occasion and shine. Snell would finish the game with 113 yards on 19 carries.
Looking at all of the running backs used on Monday, including Saquon Barkley, Benny Snell Jr. was the best and most productive. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Snell is better than Barkley, but it does mean that Snell is a better option for Pittsburgh than James Connor.
Although he didn’t score any touchdowns, Benny Snell Jr.’s runs were instrumental to the Steelers’ offense. Snell broke through the defense for significant gains twice. Both long runs set up scoring drives and removed pressure from Ben Roethlisberger.
On the other hand, the Giant’s defense stuffed Conner play after play. Throughout the entire first half, the offense was unable to get a rhythm due to the poor run game. The first time the offense looked entirely in synch was on the final drive of the half. The Steelers did not call a single run play during that drive. Although it may not entirely be his fault, James Connor dragged the offense down. His terrible runs allowed the defense to focus on Roethlisberger and sack him several times.
If Conner’s injury problems persist, as it has in the past, his production will fall. It appears that James Connor has reached his peak. Benny Snell Jr., on the other hand, had no such injury concerns and only has room to grow.