On Sunday the Pittsburgh Steelers enjoyed a measure of revenge on the Jacksonville Jaguars. After being outplayed for nearly three quarters, the team stormed back to a 20-16 victory. Ben Roethlisberger made key plays down the stretch that made up a bit for his awful play earlier in the game. The defense played outstanding keeping the score close and giving the offense a chance to get back in it. Notably, however, James Conner was largely unproductive from start to finish. This week against the Denver Broncos provides a great opportunity to bounce back. If James Conner can recapture his form he will power the Steelers to victory in a favorable matchup against the Broncos.
James Conner Can Power the Steelers to Victory over Denver
The Rushing Numbers Stack Up Well
Coming into this Week 12 showdown, the Denver Broncos rank 27th in the league in rushing defense. They yield nearly 130 yards on the ground, which does not help you win games. Over the last few weeks the Broncos have played better against the run, but they still yield nearly 100 yards a game. The Steelers rushing offense doesn’t rank very high either, gaining just under 100 yards a game. That is mostly due to the fact that the Steelers don’t use the run to set up the pass. The running game is used to compliment the Steelers’ prolific passing game.
Conner’s last two games are, admittedly, unimpressive. Conner left the game against the Carolina Panthers due to a possible concussion and the game against the Jaguars was difficult for him. However, this is still the same guy that rushed for over 100 yards and scored a touchdown in four straight games. No Steeler has ever done that. If Conner can recapture that form from a couple of games ago, he can do a lot of damage against the Broncos. There’s no reason he couldn’t do it. He rushed for 19 yards in his first game against the Baltimore Ravens, then turned around and rushed for 107 the next time they played. He could have plenty of space considering what else the Denver defense has to worry about.
Denver Will Have Their Hands Full Containing the Pass
The Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the more prolific offenses in the NFL this season. It’s right up there with the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams, and New Orleans Saints. Denver has played the Chiefs twice and the Rams already this season. Against the Chiefs, the defense yielded an average of 300 yards passing and around 85 yards rushing. Against the Rams, they kept the passing down to around 200 yards passing but gave up the same amount on the ground. The Steelers have just as many weapons as those teams. Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Vance McDonald, Jesse James, and Ryan Switzer have done a lot of damage to opposing defenses. Oh, and let’s not forget James Conner.
If the Denver defense focuses too much on trying to contain the receivers and tight ends they will leave Conner open to shred the defense. Conner ranks 9th among running backs in receiving yards. Conner can take a swing pass and get north and south in a hurry. Denver ranks 18th in the league in pass defense. The Steelers are 4th in the league in passing offense. It is well within the realm of possibility that the Steelers could put up numbers similar to that of the Chiefs against this Broncos defense.
Follow a Winning Formula
As mentioned previously, the Broncos have faced the prolific offenses of the Rams and the Chiefs (twice). The Broncos lost each game, although they did make it close. Kareem Hunt for the Chiefs and Todd Gurley of the Rams each had huge performances against the Broncos. If the Steelers want to continue their winning ways, it might be worth using Conner in a similar way Hunt and Gurley were used. In their first meeting, the Chiefs had a more focused passing attack and used Hunt to gash the defense when matchups were favorable. The Rams opted for a more run-heavy attack. They used Gurley as often as they threw the ball and let Gurley control the game.
The Steelers can adopt similar game plans if they choose. The offense is capable of being pass-heavy, using Conner to exploit holes in the defense. Likewise, if needed, Conner has proven he can shoulder the load and carry the offense for stretches of the game. James Conner doesn’t have to be Kareem Hunt or Todd Gurley. But he is more than capable of attacking the Broncos like they have, and having success just like them.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers to keep the winning streak alive, they must get a win in Denver. The Steelers are more than capable of doing so, and James Conner will be an important part of that. The match up is favorable. The Broncos will have their hands full with the Steelers passing attack. That should leave Conner free to exploit weaknesses in the Broncos defense. The Steelers would be wise to look to how the Chiefs used Kareem Hunt or the Rams used Todd Gurley as ways they can use Conner against Denver. He is certainly capable of putting in a performance like Hunt or Gurley. If Conner can recapture the form he had in the beginning of this win streak, the Steelers should leave Denver with a victory.
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