We have blamed Mike Tomlin, Randy Fichtner, and the offensive line for the failed running game this season. Maybe it’s time we took a good hard look at the Steelers running backs to find the cause of the failing running game. There is plenty of blame to go around, but the problem starts with the players actually carrying the football first and foremost. It is time Mike Tomlin tried some new blood at running back to see if he can’t change the team’s fortunes.
Let’s start with James Conner. Talent wise, he may actually be an above average player at the position. The fact remains however that he simply can not stay healthy. There is no cohesiveness between Conner and the line because there aren’t enough reps between the two. Conner has missed eight games in his four year career, and thats not counting the several occasions he’s been injured in game like was the case Sunday night. No one likes to classify a player as injury prone, but in this case unfortunately the term fits.
The next two backs on the depth chart are much, much worse. Benny Snell is a part time back at best. His absolute absence of any speed or elusiveness make him a one trick pony. Then there’s Jaylen Samuels. We are not exactly sure what Samuels brings to the table. He is even less athletic then Snell, and brings none of the power back traits. The argument could be made he is a decent receiver out of the backfield. Even then, there is no threat of speed or missed tackles here. We have openly wondered why Samuels has a spot on this roster several times over the last few years. Top 5 Steelers in danger of losing their jobs after the draft
The new blood:
So all this is a long way of saying it’s time for the Steelers to try someone new at running back. Mike Tomlin has some options here. First off, there is 2020 fourth round pick Anthony McFarland. This is a player who brings something completely foreign to the Steelers running game………SPEED. Pittsburgh has traditionally liked their backs big and lumbering. That worked great in the 90s, but in modern football speed is a much needed asset. McFarland has speed in spades, and at 5’8” 208 he is not a small back by any means. It is time he got a full game of carries to see what he can do for this team.
Another option open to Pittsburgh is practice squad’s own Wendell Smallwood. Again he is not the typical 210 plus pound back the team seems to favor. He is however another speed threat who is capable of making a big play in the open field. Smallwood has averaged over four yards per carry twice in his short career, albeit in small sample sizes.
Outside the organization:
When you are essentially the worst running team in the NFL, no solution should be off the table. If the Steelers insist on having a punisher type running back there is a player who is available. Marshawn Lynch has hinted in the last few weeks that he is itching to get back into football. https://www.oregonlive.com/nfl/2020/12/marshawn-lynch-open-to-coming-out-of-retirement-for-a-third-time.html
This might be a Hail Mary option, but can the Steelers afford not to try just about anything to revive their running games? Lynch did average over four yards per carry for the Raiders in 2018. Pittsburgh only realistically needs to keep him healthy for five to six games to make a Super Bowl run. Who wouldn’t want a slightly used Beast Mode for the stretch run in Pittsburgh??
That old saying “Repeating the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity” applies here to the Steelers running game. Running a semi-healthy James Conner into this line is clearly not the answer. This has become more of a finesse offensive line that needs more of an athletic running back behind it. With the playoffs already in hand, this team has three weeks of open tryouts at the running back position. Trying someone new couldn’t hurt, there’s nowhere but up to go for this running game.