The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the regular season, following the most unique offseason in the NFL since at least World War II. While it didn’t involve a player lockout, teams still did not have physical access to their players, though they were at least able to meet with them virtually.
Even training camp looked much different from the norm, and a big part of that was the fact that there will be no games along the way to prepare for. Their first football game of the year was to be the opener against the New York Giants.
As the season progresses, however, there will be a number of questions that arise on a daily basis, and we will do our best to try to raise attention to them as they come along, in an effort to both point them out and to create discussion
Questions like, how will the players who are in new positions this year going to perform? Will the rookies be able to contribute significantly? How will Ben Roethlisberger look—and the other quarterbacks as well? Now, we even have questions about whether or not players will be in quarantine.
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Is JuJu Smith-Schuster going to be featured more and more in the offense in the second half of the season?
Over the course of the past three weeks, a three-game road stretch, I might add, arguably nobody has been more important to the Steelers’ ability to win games on offense, short of Ben Roethlisberger, than JuJu Smith-Schuster, ‘old reliable’, who is nevertheless the second-youngest wide receiver on the roster behind rookie Chase Claypool.
While he clearly is not old, though, he does continue to prove reliable, and it seems as though, as the offense struggles, Roethlisberger is turning more and more to Smith-Schuster, the target with whom he has the most experience, to make the critical plays in the game that need to be made.
The fourth-year wide receiver caught six of seven passes from Big Ben yesterday for a season-high 93 yards, scoring a big touchdown from 31 yards out, on which he had to fight for the final eight or so, and which got them back in the game at that point.
The week before last, he caught seven passes for 67 yards, many of them key possession-down conversions. The week before that, he went nine for 85. Over his last three games, he has caught 22 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown. In the first five games, he did score three times, but had just 23 receptions for 194 yards.
Roethlisberger has been breaking in Diontae Johnson, Claypool, and Eric Ebron over the course of much of the season, but now the ball is going back more and more to the sure thing. I’m not sure this is coincidental, especially with the emphasis coming in the second half.