JuJu Smith-Schuster has caught 23 passes so far over the first five games of the season. That has only produced 194 yards of offense, averaging just 8.4 yards per reception, a product of the fact that he has been targeted just 4.7 yards beyond the line of scrimmage on average so far this season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ most experienced wide receiver, however, is not particularly concerned with his numbers, and for one reason above all: they are winning. If they were losing games and he had just two catches for six yards like he did on Sunday in the team’s 38-7 trouncing of the Cleveland Browns, perhaps it would be different, but he’s willing to allow his numbers to take a back seat to the ultimate goal of victory. No matter how many times reporters ask him about his numbers.
“I am having fun all of the time”, he told reporters. “Whether I get the ball or not, whether I get two catches for 10 yards or six for 60. For me it’s more about the team, the atmosphere, our defense is having fun, the offense is having fun, teammates are having fun. I come in for the celebrations. For me I am happy being 5-0”.
After all, the last and only previous time the Steelers were 5-0 was long before Smith-Schuster was even born, back in 1978. The best start they have had since 1979 was a 3-0 start in 2010. He has still gotten into the end zone three times so far this year, second on the team in receiving touchdowns behind only rookie Chase Claypool.
“I think we have played tremendously. When you look at the stats you don’t really see the big numbers there, you see points on the board”, he said. “You don’t see a lot of yards. For us it’s more about the ball placement, positioning. Turnovers are a huge thing for us the past couple of games. As far as that, making turnover plays instead of driving 80 yards for a touchdown, we are only going 20 or 40”.
Against the Browns on Sunday, that couldn’t have been more true. Of their 12 total possessions throughout the game, six of them started no further from the end zone than their own 45-yard line. Four started at midfield or closer, and three started in Browns territory, including one at Cleveland’s 28-yard line.
For those wondering, those possessions produced three touchdowns, two punts (both drives derailed by penalties), and the final possession of the game that consisted of the victory formation. Plus, there was Minkah Fitzpatrick’s pick six to boot.
Ben Roethlisberger only attempted 22 total passes in the game because they led by so much so early on, and because the ground game was working when it needed to. The Steelers rank 26th in the league in pass attempts per game because they’re winning. So no wonder the numbers lag.