Conner, Samuels Carry Steelers to MNF Win

Nick Mensio

The Bengals and Steelers both entered Monday night’s AFC North tilt at 0-3, and both offenses were bottom four in the NFL in rushing. Neither team got that part of their offense going, but the Steelers seemed to find a way to get their running backs going by feeding them short passes.

The duo of James Conner (8-83-1) and Jaylen Samuels (8-57) combined to catch 16 passes for 140 yards, while Samuels also scored as a runner. Conner badly needed this slump-busting outing after totaling less than 65 yards in each of the previous three contests. He and Samuels were pretty much the entire offense outside of one long touchdown from Diontae Johnson. Conner is more of an RB2 headed into Week 5 against the Ravens, but perhaps the Steelers found a new way to get the ball in their running backs' hands. Baltimore just got flamed by Nick Chubb for 183 yards and three touchdowns in Week 4. Conner needs Rudolph to start threatening down the field.

After touching it zero times last week against the 49ers, Samuels was a key piece of the Steelers' game plan in this one. He even lined up as the quarterback in wildcat formations a few times and "completed" all three of his passes for 31 yards on touch passes on sweeps. Samuels' rushing score came out of that formation as well. The Steelers feasted on Bengals LBs by hitting Samuels and Conner on a ton of short passes, with Rudolph going a perfect 16-of-16 for 140 yards and one score when targeting the two backs. Samuels needs to be owned in all formats, but his weekly usage is unreliable until we see this more consistently.

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Rookie wideout Diontae Johnson has been the Steelers' best wideout in the two games Rudolph has started since Ben Roethlisberger’s injury, producing a combined 9-129-2 line on 12 targets. He and Rudolph have a connection after practicing together in the summer. Johnson was left as wide open as wide open gets on his 43-yard touchdown in this one. He needs to be owned in 12-team leagues as a big-play threat for an offense that isn't taking many shots down the field. But at 5'10/183, Johnson has speed to burn with 4.53 wheels and has been the top downfield threat for Pittsburgh.

Andy Dalton absorbed a career worst eight sacks in this one, losing a fumble on one, and his pick was a terrible fourth-down throw into the end zone. The Bengals flat-out had no answers and haven't looked good at all since their surprising Week 1 performance in Seattle. Dalton is well off the fantasy radar but does get a nice on-paper draw against the Cardinals in Week 5. He's still extremely hard to trust behind this Swiss-cheese offensive line. Tyler Boyd looks like the only reliable piece of this offense, though Joe Mixon is a must-start and Tyler Eifert will have streamer appeal vs. Arizona.

Injury Roundup

Josh Allen took a vicious helmet shot from Patriots CB Jonathan Jones in the Week 4 loss and was replaced by Matt Barkley. Allen remains in the concussion protocol and is looking questionable for Week 5 against the Titans. The 3-1 Bills have a Week 6 bye followed by a juicy Weeks 7-9 schedule against some soft pass defenses. We’ll update Allen throughout the week.

Christian Kirk limped off the field in the final minute of Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks. Coach Kliff Kingsbury confirmed Monday that Kirk suffered an ankle injury. Kirk is sixth in the NFL in targets on the pass-happy Cardinals, but he’s yet to score a touchdown. The Bengals are up next on a short week for Cincinnati. Kirk will be someone to monitor Wednesday when practice reports come out. Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson, and KeeSean Johnson would all benefit if Kirk has to miss Week 5. This offense has been wholly disappointing.

Bradley Chubb injured his knee in the loss to the Jaguars but returned to the game briefly. Monday, it was revealed Chubb suffered a torn ACL and will miss the season. Things can’t get much worse for first-year coach Vic Fangio and the 0-4 Broncos. GM John Elway’s seat is hot.

Mitchell Trubisky landed awkwardly on his left (non-throwing) arm in the eventual win over the Vikings and had to be replaced by Chase Daniel. Trubisky was in a sling. He’s expected to miss some time, but Trubisky should be back sooner than later and is going to avoid I.R. The move from Trubisky to Daniel, frankly, isn’t much of a downgrade. Trubisky has been bad all year. The Bears’ defense, just like last season, is carrying this team during its 3-1 start.

Quarterback & Running Back Quick Slants

Rashaad Penny (hamstring) was listed as a full participant in Monday’s practice, putting him on track to return for Thursday night’s Week 5 date with the Rams. … Marlon Mack hurt his ankle in Week 4 against the Raiders, but coach Frank Reich said he passed medical tests. Mack will likely be limited in practice this week. … Coach Jay Gruden refused to name a starting quarterback for Week 5 against the Patriots. Colt McCoy is believed to be the front-runner now that Case Keenum has been benched. Dwayne Haskins wasn’t impressive in relief. … Sam Darnold (mono) has been cleared for non-contact drills. He’s tentatively expected back for Week 5. … Saquon Barkley (ankle) is considered week to week. He’s aiming to beat his 4-8 week timetable. … Jamaal Williams (head, neck) didn’t practice Monday. … Coach Ron Rivera confirmed Kyle Allen will again start Week 5 against the Jaguars. Cam Newton (foot) remains without a timetable. … Kalen Ballage played behind both Kenyan Drake and Mark Walton in Week 4. He should be nowhere near fantasy rosters.

Wide Receiver & Tight End Quick Slants

Parris Campbell suffered an abdominal injury in the Week 4 loss to the Raiders. He saw a season-high eight targets. … Coach Brian Flores is “optimistic” Albert Wilson (calf) will return after the Week 5 bye. … T.J. Hockenson (shoulder, concussion) will avoid injured reserve. He remains in the protocol. … Davante Adams (toe) didn’t practice Monday. … Antonio Callaway has been reinstated from his four-game suspension. The same can be said for Golden Tate and Ben Watson. … A.J. Green (ankle) is expected to be out through at least Week 6.