JuJu Smith-Schuster spent the past four games heading into last week’s content nursing an injury (and earlier, a concussion) on the sidelines. But he was able to get back on the field and saw about 80 percent of the snaps against the New York Jets.
He was only targeted four times, but the one that will continue to stick out to him, especially if things don’t go well today, was the last one, which also happened to be the Pittsburgh Steelers’ final offensive play of the game. Because he failed to make the catch, resulting in a turnover on downs, and in effect, the end of the game.
Though the circumstances of the play were very difficult—low, bobbled snap, rushed, lofted ball that was over his head—Smith-Schuster was highly critical of himself for not making the play, and emotional in feeling as though he has yet again let his team down.
“That’s just how I am on myself”, he told Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last week following a practice. “A play like that, toward the end of game, a receiver like me, people make those plays. I would say yes, it was overthrown, but I also feel I could have adjusted to the ball better and maybe pushed back off and try to do a miracle catch”.
The 2019 season has hardly been an encore performance following his breakout Pro Bowl campaign of the year before, during which he caught 111 passes for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns. He will fall well short of those marks, and in fact will even come up short of his rookie numbers.
Currently, in 11 games played, Smith-Schuster has 40 receptions on the season, for 546 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers rank fourth, third, and tied three ways for second on the team this season. He has had just one 100-yard game this year.
“I’m very, very hard on myself, I’ve always been in everything I do”, the 23-year old told reporters. “That’s just the nature I put myself in”.
It’s been evident since he was drafted that he is an emotional young man, and that runs the gamut of emotions from the positive to the negative. That’s not to say that he lacks mental resilience, because he clearly does, and has shown that on numerous occasions. But he clearly gets down on himself when he falls short of his own expectations.
Whether or not he’s anywhere near 100 percent today, however, the Steelers may well need him to make one or two big plays to help put them on top of the Baltimore Ravens. If he can help send Pittsburgh into the postseason, I think many fans will ‘forgive’ him for the past few months, whether there’s anything truly to forgive or not.