JuJu Smith-Schuster has 32 receptions so far on the year for 279 yards and three touchdowns. He is averaging just 8.7 yards per reception, but he is also being thrown the ball at an average of just 5.6 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, and often in tight situations.
These are not the sorts of numbers that those on the outside might want for him, but he has seemed to embrace the role of the receiving corps, of having all hands on deck and everybody ready to step up when called upon, whenever that is.
He has been the big-play receiver before for the Pittsburgh Steelers and is still capable of doing that. It will not be easy against the Baltimore Ravens, however, who have arguably the top cornerback tandem in the NFL in Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey, a couple of All-Pros.
With Tavon Young injured, Humphrey has been seeing the majority of his snaps in the slot, and Smith-Schuster anticipates that that means a lot of matchups against him. “I think I agree, he’ll be matched up against me in the slot a lot”, he told reporters earlier today. “I know he’s playing nickel, but at the same time, I don’t know what they’re gonna do if I move outside, if he comes outside, they switch. It’ll be very interesting to see what they do”.
While Humphrey has kind of come to be seen as his nemesis, largely because of the fact that he forced a fumble against Smith-Schuster in overtime back in week five last year that decided the game, the reality is that they haven’t gone up against each other much.
According to Pro Football Focus, for example, Smith-Schuster was never targeted in Humphrey’s coverage in 2017 or 2018. In 2019, in the first game, Smith-Schuster when 3-for-3 against Humphrey for 49 yards and a touchdown—but of course there was also the fumble. In the season finale, however, he went 0-for-2, with a drop.
Since Young’s injury, Jimmy Smith has re-emerged as the nickel defender, playing on the outside, so when Smith-Schuster is on the outside, he will likely be going up against either him or Peters, depending on what side of the field he’s on. None of them are good options.
“They have a great defense”, Smith-Schuster said. “I think they have great DBs. Going against them this week is gonna be a good challenge. I’m super excited to see where that takes us”.
The good news is that the Steelers have a lot of receiving options. Outside of Smith-Schuster, they also have Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, James Washington, and Eric Ebron. The Ravens’ secondary depth also took blows with season-ending injuries to Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall as well. And, of course, they cut Earl Thomas earlier this year.