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James Conner among Four Steelers Ruled Out vs. Rams; JuJu Smith-Schuster Questionable

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The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive will be severely limited in the team’s Week 10 meeting with the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday at Heinz Field.

Running backs James Conner and Benny Snell, Jr., fullback Roosevelt Nix and offensive lineman Ramon Foster will all miss the game, while wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is questionable, according to the team’s injury report released on Friday.

Conner suffered an AC joint injury in the Steelers’ Week 8 win over the Miami Dolphins and has practiced just once since then, when he was limited in action on Wednesday. After that session, Conner did not practice on Thursday or Friday in the build up to the Rams game.

Snell injured his knee against the Dolphins and had surgery to trim his meniscus afterward. He has yet to return to practice after receiving an initial prognosis of missing two to three weeks.

Without Conner and Snell in the fold at running back, Jaylen Samuels will start. Trey Edmunds, who filled in against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 9 and suffered a rib injury, was a full participant in Friday’s practice and is expected to be able to suit up on Sunday.

Recent practice squad call up Tony Brooks-James will be the Steelers’ only other running back option.

Like Conner, Foster was limited on Wednesday but did not practice on Thursday or Friday and remains in the NFL’s concussion protocol. He will be replaced by veteran backup B.J. Finney.

Nix re-aggravate a knee injury against the Colts that he first suffered in Week 1 against the New England Patriots and originally caused him to miss six games. He did not practice at all this week. The Steelers do not have another fullback on the roster, though they have used defensive end Tyson Alualu in that role when needed. Alualu missed practice on Thursday with a knee issue but was a full participant on Friday.

Smith-Schuster was limited in practice on Friday with a previously unknown foot ailment. His status is questionable. If he misses the game, the Steelers would likely start Diontae Johnson and James Washington and use fewer three-receiver sets, with Johnny Holton and Ryan Switzer serving as depth. Switzer returned to practice on Friday after missing the early part of the week with a back injury.

Steelers

Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/25/20

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It was all about wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster’s return and the Watt brothers at the final practice before the Steelers week 3 game against Houston.

Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers

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Steelers

Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/24/20

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While it’s odd to see referees standing out in a clip of highlights, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s plan to incorporate actual refs into practice this week happened on Thursday.

Tomlin explained he is adding refs to practice to ensure his team is more disciplined, which hopefully leads to less penalties in their game this week compared to last week.

Wide receivers James Washington, Diontae Johnson and tight end Eric Ebron run routes and catch passes in this clip.

Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers

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Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger Says Form, Mechanics Can Be Better Despite Hot Start

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To hear Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tell it, he can better than what he’s shown on the field in his first two weeks since returning from elbow surgery.

He’s not happy with his footwork, he thinks he’s dropping his arm a bit and needs a more consistent release point.

The statistics, however tell another story. They say Roethlisberger has been operating at a higher level of precision than ever before. So which is it? Maybe both.

“I do feel I got a little lazy with my feet, which then, in turn, translated to a lazy arm,” Roethlisberger said. “There were some throws that I kind of dropped my elbow, if you will. I don’t want to get too technical, but it became more of a three-quarter release instead of an over the top when I didn’t need to. There are obviously times you have to change your release point. There were too many throws, I felt looking back, that I just have to get my feet working better, and that will then translate, hopefully, to the rest of the body. Then, I won’t be guiding some of the throws.”

Here’s an example from the game Roethlisberger’s form getting a little sloppy. He throws this ball flat-footed and almost all with his right side, getting less power behind it than usual and resulting in a pass that ends up behind JuJu Smith-Shuster instead of allowing him to build a head of steam toward the defenders at the line of scrimmage.

Is this a big deal here? Not really. Smith-Schuster probably couldn’t have done much better than he did at bulling over the defender, anyway. But this is also a route into the flat on the near side of the field. Over longer distances, that can make a big difference.

“I’ve gotten away with it in the past being able to not necessarily be perfect from the ground up and just letting my arm kind of make up for a lot of things, a lot of imperfections if you talk to quarterback people,” Roethlisberger said. “I feel great. I just need to get it in my mind that I can still make the throws when I’m not in the perfect position to make them.”

All of that can be true, and yet, it’s hard to argue with the results. Through two games, Roethlisberger has a 68.5 completion percentage. His career season high was 68% in 2015. In a game and a half last year, it was 56.5%.

His passer rating, even with an interception against the Broncos, is 107.1. His career season-long high came in 2o07, when he finished with a 104.1 mark. Last season before his injury, it was 66.

Some of that can be explained by a passing scheme that has take fewer deep shots down the field than it has in years past. His yards per pass attempt sits at 7.4, lower than all but four of his other 16 seasons.

Mechanical inconsistency can certainly have a greater impact on longer throws, so the Steelers’ somewhat more methodical offensive approach could be helping Roethlisberger get into the swing of things.

“Maybe some of that just comes from not playing a lot of football,” he posited. “I played two games this year. I played a game and a half last year, so really, it’s about three and a half games in two years if you think about it. It’ll come. Like I said, if I’m having these issues and we are still winning football games, that’s a plus.”

If a 2-0 record with career highs in passer rating and completion percentage is what he looks like with mechanical issues, the NFL should be very worried about what might happen if he gets into a groove.

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