The journey toward the Super Bowl is now well under way with the Pittsburgh Steelers back practicing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, still informally referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility. With the regular season standing in their way on the path to a Lombardi, there will be questions for them to answer along the way.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions during the preseason and through training camp, but much of the answer-seeking ends in the regular season, and teams simply have to make do with what they have available to them. Still, there will always be questions for us.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond as they develop, looking for the answers as we evaluate the makeup of the Steelers on their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: Will another play other than Antonio Brown have a big receiving game against the Packers in the absence of JuJu Smith-Schuster?
I think this is probably going to be one of the most popular questions Steelers fans are asking themselves right now, with Smith-Schuster ruled out for a game for the first time during his rookie season after working his way full-time into the starting lineup and producing at a solid level.
And I worded the question this way specifically in order to include players at other skill positions; I didn’t want this to be just about Martavis Bryant. Perhaps it stands to reason that the third-year wide receiver might be the most logical choice for breakout potential in a game without Smith-Schuster if Brown is excluded, but it’s no guarantee.
Of course, chances are good that only two skill position players that are not wide receivers will even see a target in the game, those being running back Le’Veon Bell, who has had a 100-yard receiving game in his career before, and tight end Jesse James. The other running backs hardly ever play, and with Vance McDonald out, they barely used Xavier Grimble.
Eli Rogers will probably be the most direct beneficiary of the rookie’s absence, as it should earn him fairly consistent playing time, provided that they don’t enter the game with the intention of running the ball out of a lot of 12 and 22 personnel formations.
It will be interesting to see how much if any playing time Justin Hunter and Darrius Heyward-Bey will receive. They have both played some this year, though very limited in snaps, and I believe Heyward-Bey has only gotten one or two targets.
I imagine the hope is that Bryant will be the guy to break out and have a big game. While he has made some underrated contributions over the course of the season—and missed out on making others—he hasn’t come close to meeting the expectations many, including himself, had for him this year.