JuJu Smith-Schuster is not the tallest receiver Ben Roethlisberger has ever worked with in a meaningful game—that would be 6’8” tight end Leonard Pope, I believe. But you would probably have a hard time finding a player with whom he’s had more success connecting on jump ball and combative catch scenarios over the course of his first two seasons in the league.
Though he was limited to just four receptions for 40 yards on Sunday against the New England Patriots, Smith-Schuster had another big jump-ball reception from Roethlisberger on a back shoulder pass. The quarterback was asked yesterday what the key to their success was in such situations.
“Him being incredibly athletic and having strong hands”, was his response. He said that it’s not something that they have to spend a lot of time in practice working on. “You just have to trust him and he’s got to trust himself, and he’s really good”.
The duo came up just short later in the game on what would have been a huge play to virtually ice the game, just failing to connect on what would have been a 30-yard touchdown to make it a two-possession game with under three minutes to play.
Smith-Schuster had a clean release and a slight lead on the cornerback, but Roethlisberger held the pass up short, which allowed the defender to get into the play and did an excellent job of getting an arm between the receiver’s and preventing the catch from being completed.
“You don’t want to overthrow JuJu because he goes up and makes plays”, the quarterback explained regarding that play during his radio appearance on Tuesday. “I can think of numerous times that you give him a chance to make a play and he’s gonna make it nine out of 10 times”.
On that specific play, which came on third down, he said, “that was one of those ones where I’m like, ‘you don’t overthrow him’. I’m frustrated with myself because I wish I would’ve put it out there more and just let him run under it and catch it, but for him, you want him to go up and make that play”.
He added, “like I said, nine out of 10 times he’s gonna make that play. The one time is gonna be a great defensive play, and that’s what that guy did. He got through there and I don’t fault JuJu at all, the guy just made a great play”.
Smith-Schuster has had a number of highlight reel catches in combative situations this year, most notably a big one against Darqueze Dennard in the Cincinnati Bengals game. He also came up with big catches against both Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye in their victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, and there are other examples to site as well.