It was a good day for JuJu Smith-Schuster. In fact, it was the best day of the season for the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver, in his first year as the number one guy. He caught five passes—albeit on nine targets, while the deep connection from Mason Rudolph took some getting used to—going for 103 yards with a touchdown.
After leading the league with eight 100-yard games last season, it was just his first of 2019, averaging over 20 yards per catch as he went, with a long of 34, but hopefully it won’t be the last, either, as the passing game begins to heat up.
In the Steelers’ previous game before last night, two weeks ago against the Los Angeles Chargers, they won, but Smith-Schuster caught just one pass for seven yards. Granted, Rudolph was out with a concussion, and rookie Devlin Hodges had to start. No wide receiver had more than two catches on the day.
With his five receptions, Smith-Schuster has now taken the lead back from James Conner for the most, with 30. He now has 443 yards with three touchdowns as he starts to get back into familiar territory, after finishing his second year in the league in 2018 with 111 receptions for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns.
He’s still far off those marks—currently on-pace for 69 receptions for 1012 yards—he can easily pick up steam as the passing game goes. I’m sure he would like that, but only if it also goes hand-in-hand with winning. Randy Fichtner said last week that he was the biggest advocate of the team continuing to run the ball against the Chargers because it was working.
“A lot of guys in the league, for being the number one guy, that don’t get the ball, you’ve just got to stay the course”, he told reporters from the locker room. “I would say for myself, yeah, as a number one guy, you would think you’d expect more balls, but at the end of the day, if we’re winning games and my team is happy and we’re getting Ws, that’s a game-changer”.
But as is the case with teams who have a number one receiver, it’s generally part of best practices to give your biggest weapon a large volume of opportunities to make plays. As he showed last night on his combat-catch touchdown for an explosive play, he’s fully capable of making them no matter who is at quarterback, as long as the ball is in play.