As a result of the Pittsburgh Steelers trading away wide receiver Antonio Brown this past March, the team is now left with wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster being expected to be the new No. 1 pass catcher in the offense. And while a lot has been written about how well Smith-Schuster has played in the slot in his first two seasons in the NFL, the same can’t be said when it comes to him functioning as a target when there are just two wide receivers in total on the field. In fact, a reader of the sire emailed me this pasty week and asked if I knew how many targets Smith-Schuster had last season when there were just two wide receivers on the field.
Thanks to our offensive charting by Matthew Marczi last season, I was able to easily find that data. Not only did I find the data, I can show you all of those plays.
Obviously, the Steelers didn’t throw much last season when they had exactly two wide receivers on the field for a play and we have that number being 49 out of 89 possible. When it comes to Smith-Schuster targets on those 49 plays, we have him charted for 10 in total with 3 of those coming in the Steelers week 3 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Week 3 – Versus Buccaneers – 1-10-PIT 48 – 1Q – (10:03) (Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass short left intended for J.Smith-Schuster INTERCEPTED by J.Evans at TB 47. J.Evans ran ob at TB 47 for no gain
Smith-Schuster’s first of those 10 targets last season when he was one of just two wide receivers on the field came against the Buccaneers in Week 3. That play was an extended play by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and essentially a broken play as wide receivers then scrabbled to get open. Roethlisberger forced a pass to Smith-Schuster and it was intercepted by Tampa Bay safety Justin Evans.
Week 3 – Versus Buccaneers – 2-10-PIT 8 – 1Q (1:08) B.Roethlisberger pass deep right to J.Smith-Schuster to TB 49 for 43 yards (J.Evans) [G.McCoy]. Penalty on TB-J.Pierre-Paul, Defensive Offside, declined. PENALTY on TB-G.McCoy, Roughing the Passer, 15 yards, enforced at TB 49.
Later in the first quarter against the Buccaneers, Roethlisbeger had a much better result when targeting Smith-Schuster when he was one of two wide receivers on the field. On this 2nd and 10 play from inside the Steelers own 10 yard-line, Roethlisberger connected with Smith-Schuster on a go route near the middle of the field after the Tampa Bay cornerback missed on his interception attempt.
Week 3 – Versus Buccaneers – 2-10-PIT 32 – 4Q (2:31) (Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass short middle to J.Smith-Schuster to 50 for 18 yards (B.Grimes) [W.Gholston].
Another extension of a play by Roethlisberger resulted in yet another Smith-Schuster reception when it was just him and Brown as the only two wide receivers on the field at the same time.
Week 4 – Versus Ravens – 1-10-PIT 1 – 2Q (12:39) B.Roethlisberger pass incomplete deep left to J.Smith-Schuster (B.Carr).
Against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4 was the next Smith-Schuster targets with him and Brown as the only wide receivers on the field at the same time. On this 1st and 10 play from the Steelers own 1 yard-line, both Smith-Schuster and Brown run deep go routes. After quickly looking to his right to Brown after the snap, Roethlisberger threw deep to Smith-Schuster down the left sideline and Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr was able to bat away the pass.
Week 6 – Versus Bengals – 2-9-CIN 44 – 1Q (11:07) (Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass incomplete deep left to J.Smith-Schuster.
Against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 6, Smith-Schuster was once again a deep target recipient from Roethlisberger on a go route down the left sideline and with he and Brown being the only two wide receivers on the field. This pass attempt fell incomplete and we credited Smith-Schuster with a drop on this play he short-armed a very catchable football.
Week 11 – Versus Jaguars – 2-8-PIT 22 – 1Q (11:36) (Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass short right to J.Smith-Schuster pushed ob at PIT 29 for 7 yards (J.Ramsey).
It wouldn’t be until Week 11 until Smith-Schuster received his next target with him and Brown as the only two wide receivers on the field. On this 2nd and 8 first quarter play, Smith-Schuster is targeted with a quick screen pass from Roethlisberger to the right side of the field and he gains 7 yards on the play.
Week 12 – Versus Broncos – 2-6-PIT 41 – 1Q (11:47) (Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass short left to J.Smith-Schuster to DEN 49 for 10 yards (B.Roby). Penalty on DEN-T.Davis, Illegal Contact, declined.
Yet another extended play by Roethlisberger is how Smith-Schuster registered his seventh target of 2018 when only he and another wide receiver on the field at the same time. On this play against the Denver Broncos, Smith-Schuster worked all the way from the right side of the field to the left side to help bail out Roethlisberger. The pass competition resulted in a gain of 10 yards.
Week 12 – Versus Broncos – 1-10-PIT 3 – 3Q (10:47) B.Roethlisberger pass deep middle to J.Smith-Schuster for 97 yards, TOUCHDOWN [S.Harris].
Later against the Broncos, Smith-Schuster registered his and the Steelers longest play from scrimmage in 2018 on a play that included him and Brown being the only two wide receivers on the field at the same time. This was really the same play the Steelers ran from deep in their own end against the Ravens earlier in the season only with Smith-Schuster and Brown switching sides. Smith-Schuster got inside his defender and Roethlisberger hit the wide receiver deep and around the numbers. Smith-Schuster did the rest with a little help from Brown down the field.
Week 13 – Versus Chargers – 3-2-LAC 44 – 2Q (12:58) (Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass short middle to J.Smith-Schuster to LAC 36 for 8 yards (D.King).
Smith-Schuster’s ninth such target came against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 13 and on a 3rd and 2 play. Roethlisberger connected with Smith-Schuster on a quick slant pass with the wide receiver working behind two tight ends that were lined up in the bunch formation with him on the right side. This was an easy pitch and catch to move the chains.
Week 14 – Versus Raiders – 2-10-50 – 3Q (12:51) J.Dobbs pass incomplete short middle to J.Smith-Schuster
Smith-Schuster’s 10th and final target of the 2018 season with just he and one other wide receiver on the field together at the same time came against the Oakland Raiders in Week and in the second half. On this 2nd and 10 play at midfield, backup Steelers quarterback Joshua Dobbs through behind a wide-open Smith-Schuster, who had run a shallow crosser from left to right. Had Dobbs hit Smith-Schuster in stride, this play likely would have resulted in a nice gain and at the very least, a new set of downs.
Summary: In total, Smith-Schuster was targeted 10 times during the 2018 season when he and just one other wide receiver (Brown) were both on the field together at the same time. These 6 receptions gained a total of 183 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. However, it is worth noting once again that a few of these receptions came on broken plays in which Roethlisberger had to extend the play.