When you have thrown more completions for more yards to a player during a season, it’s probably inevitable that you have a certain level of comfort in that guy. The fact that that person is somebody other than Antonio Brown this season for Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is actually rather remarkable.
Following a 13-catch, 189-yard evening, JuJu Smith-Schuster leads the Steelers in both categories on the season with 77 receptions for 1055 yards. In comparison, Brown (who does have seven more touchdowns) has 71 receptions for 874 yards.
While Brown still has more targets than Smith-Schuster, both have been thrown to on average at least 10 times per game. Roethlisberger praised his young wide receiver after the game on Sunday, and earlier today talked about how much he values him in big situations.
“JuJu had a matchup on the inside slot with his guy, so we had a look that we would throw that 99 percent of the time”, Roethlisberger recalled during his radio show of the final goal-line sequence of the game. “Maybe 100 percent of the time, that’s to look to throw it. And JuJu had been winning all day. Look what he had done before in that drive, everything”.
“I threw a ball to the back pylon. Him and the guy were handfighting a little bit”, Roethlisberger described the first-down throw to Smith-Schuster. “Couldn’t quite get to the ball, I probably put a little too much on it but I was being kind of safe. Sometimes with JuJu it’s better off to underthrow him and let him go up and use his body, but in that situation, first down, put it out there, see if he can make a play”.
He said that the second-down play was the same call as a run-pass option, but that offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner suggested that he consider the run option more. The run was stuffed, and Roethlisberger had a thought about third down.
“I wanted to even go back to the same play. I was going to throw it to JuJu again”, he said. “I think we should have gone to him four straight plays”. He would double down on that final comment a bit later in the interview again, saying, “like I said, I wish we would’ve gone back to JuJu four straight plays”.
That is a hard thing to imagine him saying before this season, that he would want to look for somebody other than Brown on four straight plays with the game on the line with goal to go and down by a touchdown.
It’s just a testament to how hard Smith-Schuster has worked to become not just a big part of the offense, but actually one of the top wide receivers in the league. He ranks sixth in receiving yards and seventh in receptions on the ninth-most targets and has yet to put the ball on the ground.