With no Pittsburgh Steelers football to be played this past weekend, it has seemed as if time has moved quite slow this last week. With the long await until the Steelers resume play in the AFC Divisional round, perhaps it is a good time to reflect on the season that was, and there is no better place to start than JuJu Smith-Schuster’s performance in season finale against the Cleveland Browns.
Smith-Schuster not only had the game winning score on an incredible kickoff return but the rookie also recorded nine receptions for 143 yards, breaking the Steelers’ rookie record for receiving yards in a season in the process. While the numbers flash and the accolades are even more impressive, the work that has gone into these accomplishments are even better. Smith-Schuster’s ability to make catches with defenders draped all over him was the difference between a Steelers victory and loss and has the rookie geared up for a Steelers’ playoff run.
Let’s start off with Smith-Schuster’s most impressive catch of the game, a 46-yard completion down the left sideline.
With one on one coverage with Browns defensive back Jason McCourty, Smith-Schuster high points the hanging pass and maintains possession while McCourty hangs onto his back. It is easy to wonder what is so special about this catch but it is the intangibles that Smith-Schuster has provided to the Steelers this season that make this catch so crucial. Name one receiver on the Steelers roster last season besides Antonio Brown who you would trust to make this catch. Simply put, Smith-Schuster brings a physical toughness to the receiving position that the Steelers have lacked.
Once again, here is Smith-Schuster’s soft hands and toughness being put to good work. In this scenario, Smith-Schuster is able to reach and catch a bullet pass from quarterback Landry Jones, saving what is likely an interception. Smith-Schuster maintains possession even as the Browns secondary tries to prowl the football from his grabs. With reliability like this, it is easy to see why Smith-Schuster has become the Steelers number two wide receiver over the course of this season.
Well if you thought one catch with a defender draped all over him was tough, Smith-Schuster says watch me do it again because that’s exactly what the rookie wide receiver did to the Browns last Sunday. Jones absolutely fires a pass into the tightest of windows to Smith-Schsuter who is able to not only catch the pass but maintain possession while being tackled in the process.
Smith-Schuster’s talents play right into the Steelers fortune for playoff football. As the NFL’s best teams close a long 17-week season it is physicality, toughness and execution that will determine who emerges victorious. Smith-Schuster embodies all those three elements as his grit, reliable hands and ability to make plays will have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looking his way quite often this postseason.