When you put a microphone in the face of a 22-year-old and expect him the field questions all day, you can’t necessarily be sure of what you’re going to get, other than a lack of consistency. The Pittsburgh Steelers saw their young star wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster make the rounds all over the media networks to talk football and team business yesterday, however, and if there is one thing they would have rather he didn’t say, it would be what follows.
While appearing on the NFL Network with Reggie Bush, Steve Smith, and others, Smith-Schuster was asked about the previous season in which the Steelers finished 9-6-1 and on the outside looking in in terms of playoff participation, juxtaposing that against the 13-3 season of the year before.
“I think last year there was really no conflict, there were really no problems”, he said of the 2017 season, which was his rookie year. “I mean we won 13 games, we finished off the season strong. Yes, we lost to a team that we lost to twice, but between last year and this year, and wasn’t no problems going on in the beginning of the season, there’s no problems at the end of the season. Our season’s going up and down”.
To be honest, I don’t think it’s exactly accurate to say that they didn’t have problems during the 2017 season. One major one was the Week Three team meeting in which players had an emotionally-charged discussion about how to respond or not respond to the President’s comments about NFL players. Multiple players admitted it was a distraction on the field in a game that the team would go on to lose in overtime. And that was just one of several headlines the team generated off the field.
“Like I said, if everyone just comes together and just focuses on one goal and just winning the game, that’s our main reason why we’re here right? To win Super Bowls. It would be a lot different if it was like that”, he said.
Smith-Schuster here is echoing a sentiment that we are increasingly hearing. A lot of players, both those playing significant roles and those less so, are making it clear that they want to experience a season with less drama. But at the same time they are also advocating for the retention of some of the sources of that drama.
2018 had its tumultuous moments for Pittsburgh on and off the field, that’s for certain, though it’s difficult to judge how much that had an effect on the Steelers’ win-loss record. One thing we do know is that, whereas they won the close games and came up in the big moments late in games in 2017, they more often than not failed to do so a season ago.