Homecoming should fuel James Conner in Arizona Cardinals Week 13 matchup

Arizona Cardinals running back James Conner is a former Steeler and Pittsburgh Panther, so he is returning to a familiar place.

Nov 26, 2023; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back James Conner (6) warms up to
Nov 26, 2023; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back James Conner (6) warms up to / Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
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Arizona Cardinals running back James Conner’s roots may rest in Erie County, Pennsylvania, but he played his college ball and the first stage of his pro football career in Allegheny County, home of the Pittsburgh Panthers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. This weekend, Conner returns to Acrisure Stadium in hopes of helping the Cards snag just their third win of the season. 

While in Pittsburgh, Conner earned himself a Pro Bowl berth in 2018 when he rushed for 973 yards, 4.5 yards per carry, and 12 touchdowns while he tallied 497 receiving yards on 55 receptions, plus a receiving touchdown. It was the highwater mark of Conner’s career with the Steelers, as he scored just 13 total touchdowns the following two seasons in 23 games. 

Injuries lowered Conner’s stock, and they likely played a role in the then-25-year-old signing just a one-year deal with the Cards in 2021. He played well enough that year, having scored 15 rushing and three receiving touchdowns, to receive an extension. Since then, Conner has remained a fixture in the Redbirds backfield when healthy. 

Homecoming should fuel Arizona Cardinals running back

This will be Conner’s first time back in Acrisure Stadium since he left the Steelers, and while Pittsburgh is looking to keep surprising its critics, the Cardinals just want respect. Also, Conner has a chance to show the Steelers he would have been worth keeping around. 

So far during his tenure in Arizona, the 28-year-old has done just that, rushing for 2,060 yards, 4.2 yards per carry, and 24 touchdowns. Once again, Conner found himself banged up, but he has been the best player on the Redbirds offense multiple times in 2023 when coordinator Drew Petzing calls his number. 

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen last week, as Conner saw just six carries for 27 yards in the 37-14 loss. But last week was also an outlier, as he has seen far more opportunities in every other game he’s played this year, sans the Week 5 loss vs. the Cincinnati Bengals when he went down with a knee injury. 

If offensive coordinator Drew Petzing learned his lesson about not keeping Conner out of the thick of things, expect the seventh-year back to get at least 12 carries in this one. Emari Demercado and Michael Carter should also hear their respective names called a few times too, and hopefully, it leads to a much-needed win. 

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(Statistics provided by Pro-Football-Reference)