(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
James Conner had an impressive performance against the Browns on Sunday, rushing for 101 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown, an average of 5.1 yards per carry. The offense went through Conner against Cleveland, as Roethlisberger attempted just 22 passes. Ben Roethlisberger joked after the game that "it felt like an old Bill Cowher offense."
"I think you’ve seen what he is able to do. I’m going to throw numbers out because to me it doesn’t matter if he runs for 100 yards or whatever he is doing, he is running efficiently, he is scoring touchdowns when we get down close to the goal line," Ben Roethlisberger said of James Conner today in a Zoom interview with the media. "He’s giving us first downs when we need those. I think his game right now is at an all-time high. He’s picking up blitzes. He’s catching the ball out of the backfield when we need him to, and he’s getting the tough yards when we need that as well. The thing I keep telling him is to just have fun. When he has fun, he plays great football."
Conner has rushed over 100 yards three times this season and has rushed for a touchdown in four straight games. The Steelers rank ninth in rushing, averaging 136.8 yards per game. Pittsburgh ranked 29th in rushing last year, averaging just 90.4 yards per game. The offense was terrible across the board in 2019, but the offense this year has a more balanced approach than in 2018 when Roethlisberger led the league in passing attempts (675), completions (472) and yards (5,129), along with leading the league in interceptions (16). The Steelers ranked 31st in rushing in 2018, averaging 90.3 yards per game.
"It gives us balance. I know if you read into any of the fan stuff and media stuff in the offseason, we need to be more balanced, we need to run the ball," Roethlisberger said. "That’s what we are doing. We are a balanced offense. We’re not putting up gaudy passing numbers because we haven’t needed to. I’d like to think if needed to, we could do that because we have some amazing pass catchers that can do great things with the ball in their hands, but what we have been able to do right now is win football games. That’s what is most important."
If you actively follow Conner on social media, you saw the workout pictures and videos that he posted throughout the offseason and it's paying off for him this season in big ways.
"I think he took a lot of pride this offseason in getting himself in the best shape he could possibly get himself in," Roethlisberger said of Conner. "Looks really good. Spent a lot of time at the Ben Roethlisberger footwork camp just really improving on his footwork. But I just think he is playing with confidence and he’s having fun playing the game. It’s not like all the sudden he is this new running back. He’s James Conner. He’s the running back that we all in this locker room and this building believed in and knew that he could do this and never doubted him. We are just excited for the way he is playing the game right now."