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Disaster Recovery Week 11: James Conner Doesn't Answer the Bell

Welcome to Disaster Recovery, where each week I'll examine why your studs played like duds.

This isn't a place to find out why you should have benched a player for somebody on your bench. Disaster Recovery is to examine the guys who you didn't think twice about benching, and deciding if you should be panicking at all about their value moving forward.

This season we'll be covering one dud per week. There will be two major qualifiers: the player must have performed well below expectations without an injury, and the player must be considered a must-start in most formats.

Editor's Note: Get any full-season NFL Premium Pass for 50% off. Our exclusive In-Season Lineup Tools, Lineup Optimizer and over 150 days of Premium DFS Research. Sign Up Now!


Rankings System

I'll also be implementing a new panic meter ranking system this year. It goes as follows:

  1. This week was a fluke. Don't panic!
  2. I still have full faith in this player, but there are some red flags. Be cautiously optimistic moving forward.
  3. There are genuine concerns here. Consider selling on name value, but don't panic too much unless you receive an offer you can't refuse.
  4. This player will not be the player you expected him to be. Regardless, his value may be too low to trade, and his ceiling is going to be better than anything you can get in return. Panic, but hold tight.
  5. Absolutely abandon ship. We're not coming back from this.

With Le'Veon Bell officially being declared ineligible for the remainder of the season, James Conner finally had full control of the Steelers starting job this week. He did not take advantage of it. What happened?


The Struggling Steeler

James Conner's Week 11 stat-line: nine rushes for 25 yards along with six receptions for 24 yards.

The Pressure's Off

Without the shadow of Le'Veon Bell looming over him, Conner went out and had one of his worst games of the season. He didn't have a run over 10 yards and only had two go for more than three yards. All six of his receptions were short dump-off passes. Conner had a chance to salvage his day late, but he dropped a wide-open go-ahead touchdown in the final minute of action. Ben Roethlisberger ran it into the end zone just a few plays later.

Who's to Blame

It's hard to blame this one on the matchup. Even when Jacksonville's defense was a frightening unit last season, they still weren't ranked in the top 20 against the rush. This season, they have the 15th-best rush defense in the league. Jacksonville has lost six straight and is in an absolute free-fall, yet were able to pull off their best performance against the rush against Pittsburgh. It's truly puzzling.

The Steelers offense as a whole struggled all day. They didn't even enter the red zone until the last four minutes of the game. Road Roethlisberger was in full swing, completing less than 60% of his passes for the fourth time all season and throwing three interceptions. Take away Antonio Brown's 78-yard touchdown and the only player who performed well in this game would be JuJu Smith-Schuster. Sometimes teams just struggle. This was a complete dud from the Pittsburgh offense, and yet they somehow came away with a win.


A Recurring Theme?

Looking to the Past

The Steelers lost to Baltimore in Week 4 in a game with an eerily similar box score. Conner had nine carries and Roethlisberger went 27 for 47, same as in Week 11. Pittsburgh was not able to get many red zone possessions and Conner suffered because of it. It was another road struggle for Roethlisberger, Conner, and the rest of the Steelers, just like we saw this week.

Luckily, this is the only example of a similarly disastrous game for Conner this year. Conner did struggle in Week 2 against the Chiefs and had his day saved by a one-yard scamper into the end zone. This one's a bit easier to understand, especially after watching Todd Gurley have his worst game of the year against the Chiefs this week. You have to play at a faster pace when you face Kansas City. Running the football usually isn't the answer, especially when your running back can barely get over two yards per rush as Conner did. The Chiefs are a completely different animal.


What Lies Ahead

Clearly, the Steelers offense is more likely to struggle on the road than at home. They've scored over 30 points in four of their five home games. Even against tougher opponents, they've come up big when playing in Pittsburgh. Let's take a look at their next few games:

  • Week 12: @ Denver. This could be a trap for the Steelers offense and is not an ideal matchup for a team coming off a tough game in Jacksonville. Denver's rush defense seems to have fixed some of their issues after getting obliterated by the Jets and Rams earlier in the season. They haven't given up over 100 yards on the ground to a single team over their last four games. This screams bad matchup for Conner.
  • Week 13: vs Los Angeles Chargers. Great upside matchup for the Steelers. The Chargers have performed well on defense in recent weeks, but this seems poised to be a shootout between to high-powered offenses. Conner should see plenty of opportunities to score.
  • Week 14: @ Oakland. The Raiders have one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL and are overall a terrible football team. Even on the road, Conner should feast in this one.
  • Week 15: vs New England. There's a chance this game goes at a similar pace as the Kansas City game, but New England's rush defense hasn't been fantastic and the Steelers may try to exploit it more. Not the best playoff matchup for Conner, but at least it's at home. I'd bet on him being a stud more than a dud in this one.
  • Week 16: @ New Orleans. Oh boy...


Panic Meter: 3.5/5

When you look at the playoff schedule of your stud running back, the last thing you want to see is a road game in New Orleans. The Saints run defenses has been suffocating this season, with the only running backs going for over 65 yards against them being Todd Gurley and Peyton Barber (?!). They've only given up 100 yards total rushing against Cincinnati and Tampa Bay (?!!?!?!).

Ever since their bizarre opener against Tampa Bay, the Saints have been on an absolute warpath over the past 10 games. They notched statement wins against the Vikings and Rams. They completely dismantled the Redskins and Eagles. Simply put, their playing like the best team in football right now. This is a brutal matchup for Conner in Week 16.

Now look, if Conner gets you to the championship and puts up a dud, you can't be that angry. You weren't getting that far without him. But this is what we have to look for when we evaluate the panic meter this late in the season. His remaining schedule isn't ideal and his championship matchup is terrifying. I'd be sweating if I'm a Conner owner. His best games this year may be behind him.

It is worth noting that many fantasy owners were concerned about Todd Gurley's playoff schedule last season. He put up 591 yards and eight touchdowns in the final three games of the fantasy season. Sometimes it doesn't matter!


What To Watch For

A bounce-back game for the Steelers offense in a tough matchup in Denver. Conner needs to get fed the ball more to get his groove back. If he falters in this matchup, don't sweat too much. The big concern would be if he struggles against Los Angeles in Week 13. Then you may have some decision to make.

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