Dunlap: Not Wavering In Run Game Faith

Colin Dunlap
December 06, 2018 - 5:35 am
Jaylen Samuels

Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan)- Doom and gloom, doom and gloom. 

My gosh, do some people have it or what? I mean, if you were to listen to some media members --- and take a cursory glance at Twitter and other social media --- you'd be convinced there is no way the Steelers will be able to muster any sort of running game in Oakland on Sunday. 

They might run for minus 10 yards. And that would be considered a good day according to some. I mean, how in the world are they ever going to function without James Conner? The sky isn't falling; it has already fallen because of Conner's gimpy ankle. 

Heck, maybe they should just forfeit, huh? Save the time and the trip and stay home, enjoy a couple extra days around the holidays here in the merry old 'Burgh with family and friends. 

What hogwash. 

What insanity. 

What nonsense. 

What a defeatist way of looking at all of this. 

Maybe I'm a bit nuts, but I actually have a decent amount of confidence in the patchworked backfield of Jaylen Samuels, Stevan Ridley and Rosie Nix. 

Actually, I'll be a little stronger than that. I think they will be just fine in Oakland against a defense that is ranked 31st in the NFL as they yield 153.3 yards per game on the ground. Only the Bengals' abysmal run defense is worse -- and by less than a yard per game. 

Ridley, who I think will serve as the backup to Samuels in Oakland, is a nice option to have. Not many teams in the NFL have a guy way down the depth chart who has a 1,200-yard season on his resume. Ridley does. And if not for a fumble earlier in the season, he wouldn't have been relegated so deeply to Mike Tomlin's doghouse. 

Samuels, to me at least, will be the key in Oakland. Am I oh-so impressed by the 12 carries he has this season or the seven catches he's made and a couple of touchdowns? I can't say that I'm wowed beyond belief. But answer this: What have you seen from Samuels that tells you he can't carry the mail for a game?

Did you think that James Conner could be a feature back this early in his career and have as much success as he's had? 

Be honest about that. 

I bet you didn't. 

Much more of the talk as Conner was set to undertake the feature back duties was how the Steelers were going to survive with him until Le'Veon Bell came back, not about how Conner would dazzle. 

But some are already pronouncing that Samuels can't do the job before he enters one game as the go-to guy. 

We have short memories, don't we?

The real fundamental issue in all of this is that the Steelers' run game, to me at least, has been offensive lineman driven this season. It has really hammered home the notion of just how interchangeable running backs are in the NFL. David DeCastro is having, in my estimation, possibly his best season and Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster and Alejandro Villanueva have all been very good. 

That's where the run game bread meets the butter. 

The Steelers don't employ a Barry Sanders or Marshall Faulk-type back who has a penchant for making people miss, they have a grouping of backs who are beholden to great offensive line play, they hit available holes and have success on the backs of the brutes in the trenches. Conner does that, Samuels does that and Ridley does that. Nix, certainly, isn't a make-you-miss runner. 

So, with all that said, I'm not too worried. I really am not all that worried about the Oakland game as it pertains to the Steelers' ground attack.

I think the Steelers' run game will look and function pretty much the same without James Conner --- it will grind out yards behind wonderful line play no matter who they hand the ball to. 

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