Pittsburgh Steelers RB James Conner activated off reserve/COVID-19 list

PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers' run game will get a badly needed boost against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday with the return of starting running back James Conner.

Conner, 25, was removed from the reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday after testing positive for the coronavirus and going on the list Nov. 28. Conner was at Monday's game against Washington and was spotted on the field during warm-ups but did not play.

The Steelers' run game has struggled without Conner, averaging 2.6 yards per rush in his absence.

Against Washington, the Steelers managed only 21 rushing yards, and Benny Snell, who played 46% of the offensive snaps, managed five yards on eight carries. A week earlier against the Baltimore Ravens, Snell had 60 yards on 16 carries, including crucial runs late in the game to preserve the win.

During Conner's last game, a Week 11 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, he rushed for 89 yards on 13 carries. Even with Conner, the Steelers' run game has struggled to maintain consistency, but the performance in Jacksonville was a sign the unit was getting on the right track.

Conner has 645 yards and five touchdowns on 145 carries this season.

Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey remains on the reserve/COVID-19 list after he was placed on it just hours before the Steelers' Wednesday game against the Ravens, but coach Mike Tomlin was optimistic he could return this week.

With Pouncey and Conner out, Tomlin has lamented his team's lack of fluidity and grown frustrated that they were not able to absorb their absences.

"The quality of our performance can't depend on the presence of a Maurkice Pouncey or a James Conner or a Vance McDonald and guys like that," Tomlin said Wednesday. "We've lost fluidity since we missed some of those guys. To be quite honest with you, that pisses me off because we have to be the type of group that endures regardless of who is available. That's how we construct this group, not only in terms of our acquisition of players but just development of mentality and personality. We have some work ahead of us."