Robert Deutsch / USA TODAY Sports

We have seen it with the Pittsburgh Steelers before. Mike Tomlin likes to ride one bell cow until injuries or contract issues change the game plan. James Conner was able to take advantage of Le’Veon Bell’s holdout in 2018, and recorded 1,470 yards from scrimmage and 13 total touchdowns while earning his first Pro Bowl bid. He made the Steelers’ decision easy when it came to how to handle Bell’s demands, and Tomlin dubbed Conner the new bell cow. Over the past two offseasons, however, the Steelers have acquired intriguing talent at the running back position, and one of those young players was able to step in and help the Steelers secure a Week 1 victory over the New York Giants on Monday night.

Conner struggled mightily in the first half, and ended up leaving the game with an ankle injury after recording just 17 yards from scrimmage on eight touches. In stepped second-year back Benny Snell, who rushed for a career-high 113 yards on 19 carries and sealed the victory for the Steelers. The former fourth-round pick rushed for just 426 yards and two touchdowns during his rookie season, but could play a major role in the offense moving forward. 

“(Snell) was ready to answer the bell when called upon,” Tomlin said after the game via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Snell was glad to finally get the opportunity as the main ballcarrier at the next level, and even improved as the game went on. His usage increased from two carries in the first quarter, three in the second quarter, five in the third and nine in the fourth. Snell’s yardage gained also increased from 9 to 13 to 45 to 48 on those nine carries in the final quarter. He did fumble once in the second half, but it was recovered by teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster. 

“Going into the games I don’t really have a mindset of how to call or what type of plays that I’ll get on offense,” Snell said. “Most of my workload is on special teams so that is what I take my pride in, so whenever my time comes I know it’ll come. Opportunity presented itself tonight, and I was able to get more carries than usual.”

It’s unknown how long this ankle injury will keep Conner off the field, and it’s certainly something that does not help his case as he enters a contract year. The Steelers won a season opener for the first time since 2017, and it was due to a solid performance from a new face in the backfield. 

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