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James Conner, Steelers’ running game struggling to help ailing offense

The key to a successful offensive game plan for a first-time starting quarterback is generally simple enough.

Run the ball.

With quarterback Mason Rudolph starting for the first time, the Pittsburgh Steelers entered Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers with the intention of leaning on third-year running back James Conner.

The 49ers loaded the box early and often with eight defenders, trying to force Rudolph to throw. Pittsburgh, however, couldn’t get anything going in the passing game, settling for short throws barely past the line of scrimmage. And with the 49ers’ stacked front, the Steelers couldn’t run the ball effectively, either, creating a lackluster offense in Rudolph’s starting debut.cheap nfl nike jersey

Conner ran the ball just once on the first two drives before opening up the third drive with back-to-back carries. He got the ball once more on the drive, one that ended in a punt just before halftime. That capped off a half in which he carried the ball seven times for 18 yards. His longest run went for just 5 yards.6

It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that Conner finally had a double-digit run, picking up 10 yards to open a drive that ended with Rudolph’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson.

It was the kind of run the Steelers needed from Conner all afternoon but got just once.

When his number was called again in the fourth quarter to milk the clock after the 49ers’ fifth turnover, Conner ran for 5 yards and then fumbled it away two plays later, giving the 49ers the ball just outside the red zone.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

“That never happens to James,” Rudolph said of the fumble. “James is an unbelievable player. We were still being aggressive in that situation and mixed the run with the pass.”

Those were Conner’s final three carries of the afternoon, and the only three carries of the fourth quarter.

Conner finished the game with 45 yards on 13 carries — the most he’s had this season. But it’s a far cry from his standard a season ago.

Last season, he had only three games in which he carried the ball fewer than 13 times, and the Steelers went 1-2 in those games. The Steelers were 7-2-1 last year when Connor rushed at least 13 times.

Through three games this season, Conner is averaging an anemic 2.9 yards per carry. He has rushed just 34 times for 97 yards — far from his numbers through three games a season ago. In the 2018 three-game opening stretch, Conner rushed for 213 yards on 54 carries and scored three touchdowns. He has just one this season.