No Martavis, no problem? Without the obstacle of veteran Martavis Bryant taking up snaps, Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster broke out for by far his biggest game of the year, and one of the biggest performances from a rookie in team history.
The second-round pick hauled in seven passes during the game, a career-high and totaled 193 yards, including a huge 97-yard touchdown on third and long, the Steelers backed up at their own three-yard line.
Of course, even in light of an excellent game, there is almost always a negative, and the rookie did have a pretty brutal drop early in the fourth quarter, which came on the drive following his huge touchdown. On third and seven, he got wide open and dropped a ball that virtually hit him in the numbers, forcing the offense to go three and out.
He was bailed out in a way after Lions wide receiver Golden Tate gave the Steelers a free possession back. The Lions drove from the 29 to the Steelers’ 26 when he lost the ball without any defender ripping it out, turning the ball over.
But one negative play, even if it was a drop on third down, cannot overshadow the full body of work from the 20-year-old, who has scored more touchdowns before his 21st birthday than anybody else ever has.
In fact, the day began and ended with Smith-Schuster, with Ben Roethlisberger finding him for a big 41-yard gain to start the opening drive, and ending on a four-yard shovel pass on third and one that allowed the Steelers to run out the clock and escape Detroit with their third victory in a row.
While he may have had an ugly drop on third down, however, five of his seven catches came on third down, with three of four moving the chains. His first was a check-down for just two yards on third and long, but his final three receptions were all big.
On the Steelers’ opening drive of the second half, Smith-Schuster caught a short pass for 18 yards after he broke a tackle on third and four. His 97-yard touchdown came on third and nine. He later converted on third and four on a 13-yard reception. And finally, the shovel pass that sealed the win.
The rookie played a much bigger role in the offense tonight thanks to Bryant’s absence, functioning at the clear, non-rotational number two target throughout the evening, and he certainly did not look out of place.
On the season, Smith-Schuster now has 24 receptions for 424 yards and four touchdowns, leading the team in receiving scores, averaging 17.6 yards per reception. If opposing defenses were not already game-planning for him, they ought to on the other side of the bye week.
And yes, I scrapped a couple of bike puns.