There hasn’t been this much pessimism surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers all season. They’ve lost three straight, playoff hopes beginning to slip away, and the New England Patriots are coming to town. JuJu Smith-Schuster doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, he embraces being counted out.
“I love adversity,” he said via Steelers.com yesterday. “It’s something I love to embrace. I think as a team, it just brings us closer. Times like this, when your backs are against the wall, everyone is against you, all we have is who’s in here. And we go out on the field, every man on the field, that’s who we’re walking with.”
The Steelers will need that type of resolve to get through one of the worst stretches since their consecutive 8-8 seasons in 2012-2013. They gave away leads in all three of their losses. Missed chances against Denver, bad matchups versus Los Angeles, a dumpster fire of a second half at Oakland.
To knock off the Patriots, the defense will have to step up in a big way. But the offense will still be the driving force, needing to keep score early and often. Ideally, a more effective run game will help accomplish that, something Smith-Schuster admitted.
“For sure, no doubt. That’s something we gotta establish to take the pressure off the wideouts. If we’re going to throw the ball a majority of the times, it’ll be tough. We gotta have a balanced offense this game.”
There’s a chance James Conner could suit up, officially listed as questionable, though those still seem like long odds with kickoff just 24 hours away. If he can’t go, that responsibility will again fall on Jaylen Samuels‘ and Stevan Ridley’s shoulders, who have to play better than they did last weekend.
Still, everyone knows the Steelers’ passing game will have to be the focal point to win this one. Smith-Schuster is likely to see single coverage but given Bill Belichick’s history, he’ll also face the Patriots’ best cornerback, Stephon Gilmore. According to Pro Football Focus, Gilmore is the league’s #1 corner. His 16 pass breakups this season rank second in the NFL, trailing only Chicago’s Kyle Fuller.