So much focus has been on Rob Gronkowski and the Pittsburgh Steelers inability to stop tight ends from tearing apart their defense. The issue is, no one is talking about running back James White. While no one will dispute that Gronk can burst a game wide open with his ability to get open and make spectacular catches, it is James White who keeps the chains moving game in and game out, and finds his way to the end zone.
Gronkowski, the five-time Pro Bowler, has had another injury-plagued season that has cost him not only games, but effectiveness. Looking at Gronk’s stats for 2018, and for his career, puts into perspective the year he is having.
4.3 receptions per game: Second worst since his rookie season.
63.7 yards per game: Lowest since his rookie season.
14.8 yards per receptions: Lowest since 2014.
3 touchdowns: Tied for fewest in his career.
Through 10 games Gronkowski has two games over 100 yards and zero games with multiple touchdowns. He has not had games where he has taken over a game and part of that is because of what White has done so far in 2018.
White is the quintessential multi-faceted NFL back that keeps defensive coordinators up at night. He is not a big pounding back, but has the power to run through tackles even at 205 pounds. No, White does most of his damage through his elusiveness. His 2018 stat line for the season is not flashy, nor does it scare someone just looking at the raw numbers. His 80 carries for 342 yards, 4.3 yards per carry, is nothing special. White has 76 receptions for 674 yards (8.8 yards per reception) shows his value and the trust Tom Brady has in him.
Two stats that were left out above that should have Steelers fans worried, touchdowns and first downs. White is tied for twelfth among NFL players with 10 total touchdowns, six receiving and four rushing. Out of White’s 156 touches, 44 have garnered a first down. That is 44 drives that continued and kept the ball with the Patriots.
To put the touchdowns and first downs into perspective, here is what James Conner and Todd Gurley amassed so far in 2018.
Gurley: 312 touches, 19 touchdowns, and 70 first downs. That is one first down for every 4.46 touches and one touchdown per 16.4 touches.
Conner: 263 touches, 13 touchdowns, and 63 first downs. One first down for every 4.17 touches and one touchdown per 20.2 touches.
When crunching White’s numbers you see he finds the end zone every 15.6 touches and nabs a first down every four touches.
While White does not have the name recognition of Gronk, but that doesn’t mean he should be discounted and forgotten. The Patriots have many weapons which White leads in touchdowns and receptions as he is an often used weapon of choice for the sixth highest scoring team in the NFL. Keeping No. 28 in check will not be an easy task for defensive coordinator Keith Butler, and his defense that has given up the 26 most points in 2018. If the Steelers do not keep White in check, he may extend the Steelers current three-game losing streak in 2018 and the five-game losing streak the black-and-gold have against the Patriots.