We haven’t really been talking about him a whole lot, but Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has done nothing but produce so far in his second season, going back through his performance in the preseason.
That continued in the preseason opener, in which he caught five passes for a game-high 119 receiving yards, which included an excellent 67-yard catch-and-run on a slant out of an RPO. He did that on just six targets, and the sixth one could have been a big play too, had Ben Roethlisberger been able to find him.
In the middle of the first quarter, with the Steelers facing a third and five on the Browns’ side of the field. the Steelers set up with five wide, Smith-Schuster the middle target on a 2×3 split, before Jesse James settled back into a tight end formation. The receiver simply beat the coverage off the line, Brien Boddy-Calhoun, who is usually on the outside. Roethlisberger delivered a near-perfect ball to beat Jabrill Peppers for a 27-yard gain.
Late in the first half, Roethlisberger found his slot man on a second and two in the middle of a 1×3 split on the right side. Smith-Schuster simply crossed the middle of the field and found the open window, getting in front of Jamie Collins for eight yards.
After the defense let the Browns score a touchdown on their opening possession of the third, the Steelers looked to respond quickly, and they succeeded, hitting Smith-Schuster on that aforementioned 67-yarder. Schematically, it really wasn’t complex. The run fake sucked in the linebacker, allowing the receiver to win one-on-one against the slot defender. After that, it was a race.
In the middle of the fourth, the second-year receiver continued to beat Boddy-Calhoun in one-on-one coverage, this time coming over the middle for 17 yards on first down. Unfortunately the Steelers were unable to capitalize after Roethlisberger was stripped on a sack a play later.
On what could have been a big play late in overtime with less than a minute to play, Smith-Schuster got Damarious Randall turned inside out. Had Roethlisberger been able to lead the ball more toward the middle of the field, the receiver could have caught this in stride for a big gain to near field goal range at least.
So far, there are no signs of a sophomore slump in store for the second-year second-round pick. Now the focus must be on getting their other second-round receiver, James Washington, off to the races as well.