The Pittsburgh Steelers have lost two games in a row and are without a true starting running back Sunday for a road game against the Oakland Raiders.
James Conner, who had two touchdowns for Pittsburgh (7-4-1) last weekend and is approaching 1,000 yards rushing, has been filling in more than capably for the now-exiled Le’Veon Bell, but Conner will miss the game against Oakland.
He got hurt late last weekend in a loss to the Chargers, and what was originally called a contusion turned out to be “a little more significant than we initially thought,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. “I don’t know if you would describe it as a high-ankle sprain. It is an ankle sprain, much more than a contusion as initially thought to be.”
The Steelers plot a committee approach with rookie Jaylen Samuels, lightly-used veteran Stevan Ridley and Trey Edmunds, who was promoted from the practice squad.
“Everybody’s got to do their part so we can carry this load,” said Ridley, who has rushed for just 56 yards. “I’ve just been working, getting ready.”
Samuels indicated he expects to start, although that hasn’t been confirmed.
“I’ve always got to prepare the same way because you never know what will happen,” said Samuels, who has a combined 85 yards and two touchdowns and has been most effective as a slot receiver. “I had to be 100 percent prepared like I was going to start. Keep doing the same thing I’ve been doing the last couple of weeks.”
It might help that Pittsburgh has been riding the passing game more lately.
“I’m not concerned about” the pass-run ratio, Tomlin said. “Sometimes, we’re going to be run-heavy. Sometimes we’re going to be pass-heavy. At the end of the day, we better be a group that is capable of attacking in both and provide that type of balance, if you want to call it balance.”
There is not much balanced this season about Oakland (2-10), which has been eliminated from playoff consideration, is tied with San Francisco for the NFL’s worst record and is a candidate for the first overall pick in the 2019 draft.
The Raiders might have more momentum if they had completed a comeback last week in a 33-30 loss against Kansas City.
“We don’t look ahead right now,” Oakland coach Jon Gruden said. “We’re looking at the Pittsburgh Steelers. That’s all we’re doing. I’m really proud of our team. We fought back (Sunday), made it 33-30 in the fourth quarter. We’re not looking ahead to nothing except the Pittsburgh Steelers, I can assure you.”
Three Raiders offensive linemen were limited in practice during the week in center Rodney Hudson (ankle/knee), guard Gabe Jackson (knee/ankle) and guard/tackle Kelechi Osemele (toe). Hudson and Jackson are expected to play, while Osemele is questionable.
—Field Level Media