As we will do every Saturday to get you ready for the week’s game, our X Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. What will make or break the Pittsburgh Steelers as take on the Kansas City Chiefs.
X Factor: JuJu Smith-Schuster
JuJu Smith-Schuster has already been out-snapping, and out-playing might I add, Martavis Bryant. That trend is going to continue this weekend and probably heavier than the norm. Eli Rogers is back in the lineup and Ben Roethlisberger has hinted Bryant will see a reduction in snaps, keeping JuJu on the outside and Rogers to the slot.
If I knew the plan was to play Rogers 40 snaps, he’d probably be more choice. But that’s no guarantee. What is guaranteed is for Smith-Schuster to play the majority of the time against a tough, physical Chiefs’ secondary. The Chiefs don’t shadow receivers but you can figure he’ll see a lot of reps against Marcus Peters. Last week was Jalen Ramsey, this week Peters. Welcome to the NFL. But he’s going to have to make a couple plays because Roethlisberger can’t throw Antonio Brown every single time, despite his best efforts.
And JuJu can win when he’s in the slot. Slot corner Phillip Gaines is only 193 pounds, giving JJSS the side advantage inside (he’s about 215). In general, his game has seen growth as a route runner, even beating Ramsey on a double-move last week. Could’ve been a TD had pressure not forced Roethlisberger to scramble.
He’s also going to be a key target on third down when he’s in the slot. He’s caught four of six passes on third down, three of them moving the sticks. A small sample size but the second best percentage on the Steelers.
This offense is stuck in the mud. And someone, Brown aside, has to step up and make plays. Smith-Schuster is the best bet to see the second-most playtime and he’s shown the flashes to separate, the biggest issue that was tethered to him coming out to USC.