3 questions about Steelers rushing game going into week 5

Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner. Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner. Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports /
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Pittsburgh Steelers running back Benny Snell (24). Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports /

Are The Steelers Now Running Back By Committee?

Just hearing the term running back by committee is enough to make any Steelers fan shudder. This is something Steeler Coach’s have never done.  More than likely Mike Tomlin will not do this; however, if he does use his running backs in this manner, there are some potential reasons.

Primarily it could be that Mike Tomlin has taken James Conner’s durability into question. Which, to be frank, might not be a bad idea. If he has other running backs at his disposal, why not utilize them as well, reduce the wear and tear to try to keep the unit as healthy as possible going into the playoffs. Rookie Running back Anthony McFarland made his debut against the Texans. He put up nice numbers too.  McFarland had six rushes for 42 yards a seven yards per carry average, whereas Conner had 11 rushes for 44 yards, only a four-yard per carry average through the third quarter. His average only went up with fourth-quarter successes.

Secondly, though not as likely, Mike Tomlin has lost some faith in Conner. In the games against Denver and Houston, he has not done overly well early on. In week two against Denver, in the last two minutes fourth quarter, Conner went three carries for 63 yards until then, he only had 13 rushes for 43 yards. Against the Texans, in the fourth quarter, he had seven rushes for 65 yards. Perhaps Mike Tomlin has some performance concerns. Although in fairness, if he had decided not to utilize McFarland, it’s probably safe to assume Conner might have had a few more yards. So, more than likely, Tomlin has not lost any faith in his number one back, yet depending on how well he performs in the next four to five games, we will have a more definitive answer.

Another option possibly is that Tomlin wants to start grooming Anthony McFarland to take the number one back slot. Given his performance against the Texans, he is off to a good start. Sure he is a fourth-round draft pick, but may stars have come out of the mid to later portion of the draft. Just ask Tom Brady. Certainly, McFarland had a good career at Maryland. He started at Maryland for two years and had 1648 yards rushing with 245 attempts netting him a 6.72 yards per carry average and 71.65 yards per game. No wonder the Steelers drafted him. He also showed he could move and cut like Le’Veon Bell used to do for the Steelers. While this scenario is not highly likely, another serious injury to James Conner could change that.

Lastly, because of Mcfarland’s performance, will Benny Snell be downgraded? Face it after Snell’s game against the Giants; he has ten carries for 20 yards. Granted, it could be he had a bad performance against the Broncos and that because Tomlin split up the carries over his entire running back corps in against the Texans. In Any case, if McFarland keeps improving, especially if Tomlin gives him more carries than Snell, McFarland may leapfrog him in the depth chart. Again, we won’t know till after week four or later. Also, again, all of this is contingent on Conner staying healthy. One play can change things in a heartbeat in the NFL. In one play, Saquon Barkley tore his ACL and is out for the season.

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For now, though, fans should be happy with the Steelers rushing game. Yes, there are some concerns and questions, for now, we have to wait for the Steelers to play the next few games for any definitive answers. So, for now, whatever direction the Steelers running game goes, as long as they get the win, that’s the best stat of all.