Benny getting it done: With James Conner sidelined with a should injury the last few weeks, it has been Benny Snell who has stepped up for the running game. Last week against the Browns Snell had 16 carries for 63 yards, while the week before he had 21 carries for 98 yards against the Bengals in his first game back from a knee injury. He came on strong late in both games, with just eight yards in the first half against the Browns, and only 19 yards rushing against the Bengals before halftime.
Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said he would use him more early in the game, but circumstances didn't warrant that as of late.
"We try to rotate them all to keep them as fresh as possible," said Fichtner. "Circumstances, we didn't have the ball much in the first quarter. I think we ran four plays. That's us too, we didn't get a first down. Three plays and out. Maybe he would have gotten more touches in that situation."
One of the things Fichtner likes about Snell's game that continues to grow is his pass protection and role in the passing game, and he plans on continuing to develop in the area as well.
"He knows that's an area that he's got to continue to grow in, but that'd be another one of those areas when you're young," said Fichtner. "The time to make a mistake is out on the practice field, not in game, and so maybe putting him in is an opportunity that gives our team a chance to win at this present time. We're not going to look at him as he's just our runner when he's in there, or a blocker, but he's a pass receiver, he's got to block protections, and he's held to the same standard of all the other backs."
Making plans: It's not often an offensive coordinator has to game plan for three different quarterbacks in one season, but that has been the case this year for Fichtner. He has been challenged with planning for Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges this season, and there are differences, especially relating to Rudolph and Hodges.
"Each guy has a natural thing that appeals to their eye or they feel they're comfortable with, whether it's moving in the pocket, not moving in the pocket, deeper throws, intermediate throws, crossing patterns, all of the different types of concepts," said Fichtner. "A little bit of that goes into play as well. I think we look around as a whole unit, and how can we utilize the people that we have that are healthy, and they can play in the game. So that leads us in a direction, and that's kind of what we do week to week, and it's a good feeling knowing that most of the guys have played in the last week or two, hopefully they'll be back this week."
Stepping up: The running game isn't the only area where players have stepped up because of injuries. With JuJu Smith-Schuster out the last two weeks, it's been James Washington who has picked up the slack as he has led the receiving corps and quickly become a favorite target of Hodges.
Washington had three receptions for 98 yards and a touchdown two weeks ago against the Bengals, and four receptions for 111 yards and a touchdown against the Browns.
"He's a second-year player, and you hope to see that kind of jump," said Fichtner. "I think everyone has high expectations for everyone that plays, and when you have to play young, you're going to make some mistakes. They get magnified when you potentially maybe get drafted higher, and the expectations are you're supposed to be just NFL ready, and I think you're witnessing a guy that played last year, took advantage of at least the reps he got from an experience standpoint, and then at the end of the season said, 'You know what? I'm better than this, and I want play, and I want to make it.'
"I think he worked his tail off. I know he came back to training camp at the appropriate weight we all thought was appropriate for him, and he's been just a pleasant, pleasant worker moving forward. I mean, he's been great. He's been a leader as well. He's had to. Now look around him, he's played more football than most of the guys there playing with him. He's jumped into that role while JuJu been down. That's been really pleasing."