A lot has been written about how the Steelers passing game will change next year, but Pittsburgh is very committed to diversifying their ground attack.
Steelers fans are fully prepared for significant changes to their passing game due to the offseason departure of Antonio Brown. What fans in Pittsburgh might not be as prepared for is a drastic shift in the team’s rushing game.
According to general manager Kevin Colbert, that’s exactly what we should see from the team next season. Drafting former Kentucky star Benny Snell in the fourth round of the draft was a significant step in that direction.
His addition to the likes of James Conner and Jaylen Samuels doesn’t necessarily mean a running back by committee approach is coming to Pittsburgh, but it does mean the load on Conner is going to be significantly lessened next season.
Colbert’s specific hope is that each of the three backs will serve to “make the other one(s) better.” Part of that calculation is based on keeping Conner fresh.
He started the 2018 campaign as one of the most productive running backs in the NFL, but fatigue and injury lessened his effectiveness down the stretch.
Conner may equal or exceed the 215 carries he enjoyed last year, but head coach Mike Tomlin will be tasked with trying to even out his workload over the full season.
On first and second down, look for Snell to be the guy who helps take work away from Conner. He’s not going to be a big play threat for the Steelers offense, but his collegiate tape shows him to be a powerful runner who can break tackles inside.
Giving him five to 10 carries per game could really serve to soften the opposing defense up for his teammates.
Samuels should emerge as a primary threat for the Steelers on obvious passing downs. Expect him to see a lot of snaps when Pittsburgh’s offense finds themselves in challenging third down situations.
He’s the most natural pass catcher of the group. If he can solidify his ability to protect Ben Roethlisberger in the blocking game he could be in line for a significant uptick in playing time in 2019.
The NFL is all about adapting and the Steelers offense will have to do that in multiple ways this season. The change won’t be limited to Big Ben’s aerial attack. A healthy amount of evolution must also occur with the team’s rushing attack if they’re going to be successful.