The Oakland Raiders will take any break they can get these days, and for the second straight week their opponent will be shorthanded.
Last week, the Kansas City Chiefs released star running back Kareem Hunt because of his off-the-field problems and wide receiver Sammy Watkins was out because of an injury.
On Sunday, the Raiders (2-10) play host on to the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4-1), who announced on Tuesday that running back James Conner will not play because of a sprained left ankle.
“James Conner’s injury is probably a little more significant than we initially thought,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters. “I don’t know if you would describe it as a high-ankle sprain. It is an ankle sprain, much more than a contusion initially thought to be."
With standout running back Le’Veon Bell holding out all season, second-year pro Conner has stepped in and rushed for 909 yards and an AFC-leading 12 rushing touchdowns, in addition to making 52 catches for 467 yards.
Basically, Bell has not been missed.
Conner originally was thought to have sustained a minor lower-leg contusion in the fourth quarter of Sunday night’s loss to the San Diego Chargers after he rushed for 74 yards and two touchdowns.
Without Conner, the Steelers will turn to rookie Jaylen Samuels, who has 12 carries for 31 yards this season, and veteran Stevan Ridley, who has 18 carries for 56 yards. Samuels has caught seven passes, with two going for touchdowns.
The Steelers also signed running back Trey Edmunds off their practice squad.
“We got a great deal of confidence in Ridley and a great deal of confidence in Jaylen,” Tomlin said. “Jaylen, of late, has been on the rise.”
Of course, the Steelers might not need Conner against the Raiders, who are allowing 153.2 rushing yards per game, 31st among the NFL’s 32 teams.