Who do you think the Steelers would rather see bounce back in 2020: JuJu or James Conner?
For me, it’s pretty doggone easy. If I could only pick one, I’d rather James Conner be good.
I've got history on my side. Of late, the running game has been crucial to the Steelers success.
In 2012, the Steelers didn’t make the playoffs. They were 26th in the league in rushing. In 2013, the Steelers didn’t make the playoffs. They were 27th in the league in rushing at just 86 yards per game. In 2014, they went BACK to the playoffs. No coincidence. They averaged 21 more yards per game running the ball than the year before.
Between 2014 and 2017, the Steelers made the playoffs every year and averaged over 100 rushing yards per contest.
You can argue that a good, healthy JuJu helps Ben Roethlisberger. Of course he would, but nothing helps an aging QB the way a running game does.
Tom Brady won his last Super Bowl at the ripe old age of 40. The Pats averaged over 130 rushing yards per game. In 2019, the Pats averaged 27 fewer yards per game on the ground. They flamed out in the first round. They asked too much of their four decade old quarterback.
The Saints have been a lot better with Drew Brees not needing to be super man. They were top-10 in running the ball in 2017 and 2018. They were a blown call away from going to the Super Bowl.
Last year, they took a step back in the ground game, and they lost in upset fashion in their first playoff game. Brees went 7-9 three times in his career when he led the league in throwing the ball.
Smart teams with older QB’s are realizing that you need to run the ball to protect them.
The Chargers were 24th in the league in rushing this year, and poor Phillip Rivers had every game on his back. He threw about 400 interceptions.
Sure, there’s some chicken and egg stuff going on here, but I think if you’ve got a QB who’s in his late 30’s or early 40’s, you have to do what you can to take the wear off of him.
If Conner can shoulder the load, it goes a long way towards insulating the 38 year old Ben Roethlisberger.
Ben led the league in pass attempts per game in his last two healthy seasons. That’s probably why I had to add the qualifier, “last two healthy seasons.” He threw too much and his elbow paid for it.
Run the ball to preserve Ben. James Conner is more valuable to the efforts of this football team than JuJu.