One of the things that the Pittsburgh Steelers offense has done very well, particularly over the course of the past couple of seasons, is coming up with points in timely situations at the ends of halves. Even in their past two losses, the offense drove down the field to score touchdowns that either tied the game or gave them the lead. They nearly did it twice last week, only for the special teams unit to come up short.
Since he’s been here, second-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has obviously played a big role in those moments—even in the ones that have come up short. He took a long hook and ladder play last week into field goal range. Last year against the New England Patriots, he had a long reception late that put them in position to win the game.
“I don’t know what it is, but every time we do it toward the end, it’s just a natural thing that we just click on offense”, the young wide receiver told reporters late in the week. “When [Ben Roethlisberger’s] in there we’ve just got to move the ball and go down and score. That’s our mentality. Put points on the board”.
The Steelers come into this game with the fourth-ranked offense, averaging 28.8 points per game, which is ahead of the Patriots. They are on pace to score the most points in franchise history, and that is due thanks in large part to their exceptional performance in the red zone—even with four interceptions thrown in that area.
When it comes specifically to the Patriots, this team knows what New England’s usual philosophy is, which is to try to take away their opponents’ biggest weapon. That has typically been Antonio Brown, but Bill Belichick knows this team doesn’t have just one number one receiver any longer.
Smith-Schuster leads the team in receptions and receiving yards and is second behind only Brown with six touchdowns, including two last week. Because of his performance this year, Belichick may end up giving him more double teams than he has seen all year.
“That just gives other guys opportunities to make their plays”, he said. And one of those other guys figures to be Eli Rogers, who was finally activated from the Physically Unable to Perform List. Smith-Schuster took over as the slot receiver from Rogers last year, but has been playing more outside in the past month.
“I think it’ll still be inside-outside, depending on the playcalling”, he said of the plan for him heading into today’s game. “I don’t think since Eli’s back I’m gonna be outside. It’s just moreso wherever they put me, I’ll help out the team“.