JuJu Smith-Schuster only made it through one day of full practice this week for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The third-year wide receiver was officially ruled out to play in tomorrow night’s game against the Buffalo Bills following yesterday’s practice, the fourth consecutive game that he will miss since suffering a knee injury against the Cleveland Browns last month.
After being a full go on Wednesday, Smith-Schuster did not finish practice on Thursday. He was asked if he had a setback, but declined to classify it as such. “It wasn’t a setback. It was more so like I pushed myself too hard”, he told reporters. “I need to slow myself down. I’m so competitive and just to be out there and be great. I got to take it slow”.
Smith-Schuster and James Conner were to be the focal points of the offense this season in the aftermath of the Antonio Brown trade, and their roles became exponentially more important after Ben Roethlisberger was injured, but they have found ways to win in the past three weeks while both have been down simultaneously.
In his first 10 games on the season, the former caught 38 passes for 524 yards and three touchdowns. He is all but guaranteed to finish the year with easily the worst numbers of his young career. He caught over 50 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie. He had 111 receptions last season for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns.
Not that it has all been his fault. Many thought his productivity would suffer because defenses would be keying on him without Brown on the field. Little did they know that the instability of the quarterback position and his own health would play such a huge role in the numbers.
“It’s tough” to be sidelined, he said. “I’ve never been in a situation like this where I’ve been out for a long period of time. It’s only been like a few days or a week. It’s something that’s definitely new to me, and I’m learning myself how I react to it. It could be frustrating at some times, but at the same time, it’s a part of life, it’s a part of the game”.
While Smith-Schuster has been unavailable, the passing game has been getting valuable contributions from James Washington and Diontae Johnson, with a taste here and there of newcomer Deon Cain, who has yielded a positive play on each of his six targets, whether a reception or drawing a penalty.
It’s somewhat remarkable that the Steelers have been without some of their star players and still winning games during such a critical stretch at the end of the season. One can’t help but wonder how much longer they will have to go without them, and if there will even be enough time for them to get back.