James Conner suffered a sprained left ankle injury during the first half of the Steelers‘ 26-16 win over the Giants on Monday night, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Schefter added that the Steelers are optimistic for a timely return for Conner, who missed six games last season due to injury. Head coach MIke Tomlin added to that optimism on Monday saying that the club would “leave the light on” for Conner as they approach Week 2.
Conner gained nine yards on six carries and caught two passes for eight yards before leaving the game. In Conner’s absence, the Steelers leaned on second year running back Benny Snell, who rushed for a career-high 113 yards on 19 carries. Snell, a 2019 fourth-round pick out of Kentucky, surpassed Jaylen Samuels as Pittsburgh’s No. 2 running back on the depth chart following training camp.
A 2018 Pro Bowler, Conner — who is slated to become a free agent next offseason — has been hampered by injuries since joining the Steelers in 2017. After missing the final three games of his rookie season, Conner has missed nine games due to injury over the past two seasons. Conner has proven to be a good player when healthy, rushing for 1,581 yards and 16 touchdowns on 363 carries for an average of 4.4 yards per carry. He has also significantly improved as a blocker and as a receiver after initially struggling at both during his rookie season.
Despite Conner’s absence, the Steelers won their season-opener for the first time since 2017. Along with solid outings from Snell and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh received a sterling effort from its defense, a unit that held Giants’ star running back Saquon Barkley to just six yards on 15 carries.