Steelers want James Conner show to keep rolling

Saturday expects Conner to have a role when Bell returns (1:06)

Jeff Saturday anticipates Le'Veon Bell regaining his spot as lead back when he returns, but can see James Conner being part of some kind of split. (1:06)

CINCINNATI -- Ben Roethlisberger spoke in jest, but with a hint of truth over James Conner's 111-yard, two-touchdown rushing performance Sunday.

“What a great game, but I know it’s his last game for us, because Le'Veon's coming back,” Roethlisberger said after the Pittsburgh Steelers' thrilling 28-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Roethlisberger used sarcasm to emphasize a point he made earlier in the week -- that Conner should be involved in the offense with or without Le'Veon Bell, who has made plans to report during the Week 7-8 time frame.

After a slow three-game stretch, Conner has responded with a fury. His 314 total yards in back-to-back wins over Atlanta and Cincinnati have provided balance for the offense. He's now fifth in the NFL in rushing with 453 yards and seventh in rushing touchdowns with seven.

And the team clearly respects him, setting the stage for a fascinating backfield dynamic when Bell returns.

Conner smirked and said he was just "running hard" when asked about giving Bengals defenders two vicious forearms on a first-down run in the open field, eliciting a "damn James" tweet with a biceps emoji from Bell. He shouted out the offensive line, a group he calls the "Goons."

Conner made clear he hasn’t arrived, and his development is an "ongoing process."

“It's not my call [who starts], I just control everything I can control,” Conner told ESPN’s Josina Anderson on camera after the game. “We know what Le'Veon brings to the table. He's an awesome player so that's out of my control.”

Only coach Mike Tomlin knows how he'll play the Bell-Conner dynamic. First, Bell must show he's game-ready. Tomlin has been clear on that point.

But Conner has played with an edge that teammates and coaches have noticed. The Steelers averaged 2.8 yards per carry from Weeks 2-4, last in the league. That number only fueled the discussion about the need for Bell.

Conner responded with an offensive explosion.

“He had a look in his eye, and he had a good week of work,” Tomlin said. “James just wants to put his hand in the pile and be one of the reasons why we win. He wants to prove that, like a lot of guys. JuJu [Smith-Schuster] wants to prove that. They’re getting opportunities to do it, and they’re delivering.”