Former Pitt running back James Conner made his debut with the Arizona Cardinals this season after four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. And despite a tepid start, he put on a solid performance on Sunday, scoring his first touchdown with the franchise and then following it up with a second that put the game out of reach for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Conner’s first touchdown came in the third quarter of the Cardinals’ tilt with the Jaguars on a halfback toss play. During the play, Conner benefited from a punishing block by Cardinals tight end Darrell Daniels as well as two missed tackles by Jaguars defenders Damien Wilson and Andrew Wingard, and the result was a score that brought the trailing NFC West team within two points of the hosts.
The second score came on a goal-line run up the gut, during which Conner bulldozed his way through Jaguars defenders Tyson Campbell and Myles Jack with apparent ease. And at that point in the game, with less than seven minutes remaining, the six-point contribution was enough to pad a tenuous five-point lead and put the team up by a score of 31-19, which would be the final score of the game.
Conner’s outburst was somewhat unexpected, as he had just 79 rushing yards coming into the game as part of a two-man running back committee with Chase Edmonds. The Cardinals had also earned a reputation as a pass-first offense with little interest in running the ball, but with Kyler Murray unable to find the end zone through the air on Sunday, the outcome of the game hinged on Conner.
The game was Conner’s first with multiple touchdowns since Oct. 13, 2019, when he scored once on the ground and once through the air to help the Steelers notch a 24-17 win over the Chargers. It was also Conner's first game with two rushing scores since Dec. 2, 2018, when the Steelers lost to the Chargers 33-30, despite his 12-point contribution.
At this point, Conner and Edmonds are almost even in terms of rushing attempts and yardage, as Conner has 122 yards on 35 attempts and Edmonds has 135 on 31. And with little else separating the two, Conner’s two-touchdown performance could see him turned to more by the Cardinals — especially in the red zone.