JuJu Smith-Schuster Should See Bigger Role In Second Game

On a certain level, you could say that the debut performance of Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was crap. He did not gain a single yard himself, yet he did manage to draw not one, but two penalties for holding on the offensive side of the ball, so his net productivity for the team was -20 yards.

On his 22 offensive snaps, the Steelers produced a net gain of 4.27 yards per play, plus an interception, all but five of which were passing plays. Those are poor numbers, but they obviously don’t tell the full story about his game, and the coaches are well aware of this and are optimistic about his ability to contribute right now.

It is kind of hard to gain yards, after all, when you are not targeted a single time in the entire game, and he was on the field for more than a dozen passing plays, so it’s hard to put too much blame on him for not being the recipient of passes.

That is all the more difficult when you consider the fact that a little over half of the passing snaps that he saw on Sunday came on plays with four wide receivers on the field, of which he is regarded as the fourth, behind Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Eli Rogers, all of whom logged more snaps than him during the game.

On the flip side, however, he was also the lone wide receiver on the field for four of the Steelers’ six plays run out of 22 personnel, with two tight ends and a fullback on the field. While it is not surprising that Brown was not on the field for any of those snaps—they are almost always running plays, after all—it is interesting to see Smith-Schuster in that role.

Traditionally, that role has gone to Darrius Heyward-Bey, who was regarded as the team’s best blocker at the position, but it seems that the coaches are already confident in Smith-Schuster’s ability to execute those responsibilities after taking a crash course on it with Hines Ward.

The fact that his last name is also hyphenated doesn’t hurt, either.

Despite the fact that he was statistically unproductive in his debut, that has not put a damper on his or his coaches’ preparation for him heading into Sunday’s game against the Vikings, and according to Jeremy Fowler, he showed some “downfield playmaking” during practice this week.

According to the ESPN reporter, Smith-Schuster said the team is “just trying to give me an opportunity, see what I can do”. He also said that he likes to be able to work both on the outside and in the slot.

On that note, I can tell you that seven of his 22 snaps came out of the slot—seven of 16 snaps out of 11 or 01 personnel—but he saw a healthy amount of work on the outside as well, on many of which the Steelers used Brown in the slot.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • pittsburghjoe

    I wonder if this means less catches for LB? They have many capable hands to throw to this year. Just by the volume alone, it seems like it would not bode well for LB’s catching stats. I know he will be increasingly involved, but I wonder what the impact of time off and other talent will have on his statistical contribution. Its the win that counts, but it will be interesting to see how LB reacts if his numbers are down going into another contract year. Will he pout?

  • Alan Tman

    I thought you had to earn your way on to the field. I’m just not a fan of the pick first of, and really don’t think that he is ready for the big time yet.

  • Ed Smith

    Maybe this year’s receiving stats might be the reality and last year was an aberration due to all the WR injuries??

  • falconsaftey43

    He did catch 83 balls in 2014 as well

  • Douglas Andrews

    Not worried about JuJu. He showed me enough from his college tape and preseason that i’m sure he’ll step up big this week. I’ll chalk last game up to rookie mistakes/jitters

  • dany

    If it means a fresher Bell for the playoffs I’m in. But if they keep struggling like they did at cleveland, get him in and give him the ball once he’s 100% up to speed. And just hope the injury gods are finally on his side

  • nutty32

    Think it depends on which match-up Haley likes. 4th WR on the other team’s 4th DB or Bell versus the starting LB/SS when he’s spread out of the backfield. None of these decisions are made in a vacuum. Bell being rusty/healthy & how a given defense matches up personnel & formation wise changes week to week.

  • hdogg48

    True dat…I think Hunter has earned it more.

    Sit him for a while and make him more hungry.
    He’s a good kid with a good attitude who’ll
    eventually turn the corner.

  • #beatthepats

    Agree, that pick should have been a saftey – and the new patriot punt returner should be reciever 4. Guy was hurt all preseason and he was on the field like a vested veteran. Hunters preseason and camp was far better- he should have got the helmet.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    That he played this much in his first game should be an indication of the level of plans the Steelers have for him.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    I think teams look at the season as a whole and may believe that what Juju can bring to the team, come playoffs, is more than what someone like Hunter can. Remember they were experimenting with bigger slot guys before Rogers came around. It must be something Haley is looking for to make some of the packages run better.

    I didn’t like the pick at first, but he seems like a great kid with immense talent and they need some size with the lack of TE talent – not that Jesse isn’t capable. Plus, should Bryant falter, they have someone like AB they can rely on – so, getting him up to speed out of the gate.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    In a world where winning doesn’t matter, it would be kind of hilarious to see them not throw a pass his way this year and then offer him $8M/yr after the season, since he’s not also a #2 WR LOL

  • Matthew Marczi

    Smith-Schuster plays on special teams and actually blocks. You need inactives and Hunter is the overwhelmingly obvious choice for the gameday inactive among the six wide receivers.

  • Matthew Marczi

    What exactly gives you the indication that he’s not ready to contribute?

  • Alan Tman

    Injuries, penalties, not making any plays. I mean what has he done to merit the playing time he’s getting? Let alone give him more. He started, and has not done one thing. Then there’s Chickillo making plays, and will be hard pressed to stay on the field. JuJu has not shown anything.

  • John Pennington

    No penalties please just catch the ball and run that’s all he has to do.Stay clean Dont hurt the team.

  • Matthew Marczi

    The injuries tell you he’s not ready to contribute? I don’t think that’s really fair. The only one that was on him was the concussion. Smith-Schuster looked like a contributor in the preseason though, and I don’t think the coaches would be playing him if they didn’t like what he’s been doing in practice.

  • Alan Tman

    They played Jarvis Jones for 5 years and wasn’t happy with anything he was doing, and held Chickillo back because of it.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Chickillo and Jones never had anything to do with each other. Chickillo wasn’t even physically ready to play his rookie year as his body was transitioning from a 285-pound defensive end, and last year, well…he was starting opposite Jones.

  • Alan Tman

    And I never said that they did. You asked would they play a player they weren’t happy with, and the answer was a resounding yes. It’s not my fault you asked a question that worked against your point. Lol

  • Alan Tman

    And Chickillo was ready to play last year, and Jones was still playing.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I didn’t even ask a question. Also, you literally said that Jones’ playing time “held Chickillo back”, so yes, you did say that they did. Jones was never a bad player anyway.

  • Alan Tman

    I guess that’s why he’s not playing.

  • Alan Tman

    Matthew you would start Jones who you had no intentions of resigning over a second year player that has potential? Harrison and Jones started last year.