Ben Roethlisberger has never won in Oakland; James Conner's replacement not worried about increased role
The Steelers desperately need to win in Oakland, something they haven't done since 1995
One of the Steelers' biggest fears was realized Sunday night as James Conner lay on the turf grabbing his leg: What would this offense look like without the man who emerged from Le'Veon Bell's shadow to replace him?
Conner, the 2017 third-round pick out of Pitt, has had a whirlwind season; after Bell no-showed to start the season and decided to never come back, Conner quickly made Steelers fans forget that Bell was one of the league's most dynamic backs. In Pittsburgh first 12 games, Conner rushed for 909 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. He also was a force in the passing game, hauling in 52 receptions for 467 yards and a score. But late in the Week 13 matchup against the Chargers, Conner landed awkwardly, suffering an ankle sprain that will sideline him for Sunday's matchup in Oakland (4:25 p.m., Fox).
And don't assume the Steelers don't need Conner this week because they're facing the hapless Raiders, a 2-10 outfit that are currently battling the 49ers for the right to choose first in the 2019 NFL Draft. Ben Roethlisberger is 0-3 in Oakland in his career and the Steelers are 3-8 under Mike Tomlin when playing at least two time zones to the west.
"I've always got to prepare the same way, because you never know what will happen," Samuels said this week, via ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler. "I had to be 100 percent prepared like I was going to start. Keep doing the same thing I've been doing the last couple of weeks."
Considered an h-back coming out of N.C. State, this season Samuels has 12 carries for 31 yards but has seven receptions for 54 yards and two touchdowns. So how will he approach the Raiders game?
"Do what I've been doing all my life, getting in open space, catching the ball," Samuels continued. "[Roethlisberger's] one of the best. He's smart. When you're out there with him, you can't do nothing wrong, really. You should feel confident to play fast. He makes you play fast."
Meanwhile, Big Ben considers his latest trip to Oakland seeking his first victory an "awesome challenge."
"The environment, the team, the travel. A little bit of everything," the 15-year vet said. "I have been doing it for a while and have heard other people talk about it. Whether you are going to the elevation in Denver or going to the West Coast, I have heard people say if it's under 24 hours it doesn't affect your body. We've always gone the same time since I have been here. This year we are going earlier in the day. I guess we are trying something different."
The Steelers need the win not only to snap a two-game losing streak, but to maintain their half-game lead over the Ravens in the AFC North. Baltimore travels to Kansas City to face the Chiefs, who have the conference's best record.
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