PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers' struggling running game received a boost on Wednesday when James Conner was activated off the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Conner missed each of Pittsburgh's last two games, including a 23-17 upset loss to Washington on Monday that ended the Steelers' bid for an unbeaten season. Pittsburgh (11-1) managed 21 yards on 14 carries, the franchise's lowest single-game rushing total since 1970.
Conner, in the final year of his rookie contract, has run for a team-high 645 yards and five touchdowns, including an 89-yard performance against Jacksonville in his previous start last month. He is expected to be in the starting lineup when Pittsburgh visits surging Buffalo (9-3) on Sunday night.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has expressed frustration with the running game being unable to produce anything resembling consistency over the last seven games. Pittsburgh averaged 135.6 yards rushing through its first five games. That number has dropped to 61 yards per game since.
“We all need to get better, and it’s more than just a run game," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Wednesday. “We need to get better as a group. ... Fluidity comes from staying on the field and converting third downs, and that’s on me.”
The Steelers have also played the last two games without perennial Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, who went on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Dec. 2. It's unclear whether Pouncey will be available to face the Bills. While Roethlisberger was careful to praise replacement J.C. Hassenauer, he allowed Pouncey brings an element that's been lacking.
“Any time you’ve got that guy up there not just physically in terms of what he can do and brings to the game but emotionally, mentally, he is that lynchpin up front,” Roethlisberger said of Pouncey. “I always say we go as they go up front, and he’s the main guy up there. They will all feel more comfortable if Pouncey’s back. I will feel more comfortable. He’s our captain for a reason. He’s the best of the business, and I hope we get him back.”
NOTES: CB Steven Nelson, who missed the loss to Washington with a knee issue, was a full participant in practice on Wednesday. ... K Chris Boswell, who sat out the defeat due to a hip injury, did not practice. ... DB Joe Haden (concussion), LB Robert Spillane (knee) and DT Chris Wormley (illness) also did not practice. ... Roethlisberger, RG David DeCastro and LT Alejandro Villanueva were given the day off.
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