Steelers Should Look To Fill JuJu Smith-Schuster’s Void With Variety

It is a bit curious that in a few months’ time we have gone from wondering how the Pittsburgh Steelers could inject rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster into their offensive framework organically to wondering how they can play through a game without him.

But that is the mission they are on tonight as the Steelers host the Baltimore Ravens, a game for with Smith-Schuster was suspended for what was called a blindside block on Vontaze Burfict that made helmet contact, after which he stood over the concussed linebacker, which drew a second flag for taunting.

While the rookie has apologized for his actions and contended that that is not the type of player or person that he sees himself to be, the league saw it necessary to make him out as an example, in part fueled by a witch hunt ignited by Jon Gruden in the announcers’ booth, who immediately demonized him after previously saying he would pay to watch Burfict, who has twice been suspended for his on-field conduct.

But I digress beyond my point here, which is how the Steelers replace Smith-Schuster. The good news is that they have already dealt with this recently, as the rookie missed a game two weeks ago with a hamstring injury.

Not that it worked out particularly well. His replacement wide receivers combined to drop four passes, including a couple on third down and another in the end zone. But the Steelers have more options available to them this time around.

Even as his illegal block showed, replacing Smith-Schuster is more than just finding another set of hands, because his role as a blocker is also important. But they are finally getting back tight end Vance McDonald, which should take care of that issue, and should lend itself to more two-tight-end sets.

Another tool they can use, which they used only moderately against the Packers when he was out, would be to make greater use of running back Le’Veon Bell, not just in the passing game, but also explicitly as a receiver up at the line of scrimmage.

This season, Bell has taken 81 snaps at wide receiver, and the Steelers have averaged 5.5 yards per play, penalties included, in those situations. Bell himself has been targeted 18 times in these situations, oftentimes in short-yardage situations, yielding 4.7 yards per play. Not all of these, of course, would be designed plays.

Given the issues of Eli Rogers and Justin Hunter in their limited opportunities, one option I would like to see them explore is greater usage of Darrius Heyward-Bey, which is something that I have written about previously.

Considering there have already been drop issues, Heyward-Bey’s hands shouldn’t be held against him. he also has size and the best speed at the position on the team. He also brings the physicality to the position that Smith-Schuster does. In fact, Smith-Schuster took over Heyward-Bey’s roles that he occupied last season—including the receiver with the hyphenated name.

About the Author

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

    If DHB is put out there, your just going to get more dropped balls. He can run the fly pattern, going for the long ball, but he has a concentration problem, Will say DHB is one of our best Special Teamers. Bryant is being given a golden opportunity tonight. This may be his time to shine.

  • Sdale

    I was curious in the first game he missed why they didn’t use Heyward-Bey more. I would like to see him on the outside and MB in the slot. I think MB works well out of the slot and he get’s his best mis-matches there.

  • Stairway7

    Your probably right because hes shown an inability to track balls thrown over his shoulder.

  • GravityWon

    Bell to get 35 touches with 19 runs and 16 receptions.

    Rooting for my FF opponent this week who has #26.

  • Sam Clonch

    That’s fine, if DHB can get the safeties following him, it’ll clear them out of the box, give Bell more room to run.

  • Steeler4l1f3

    I’d like to see DHB mix it up, especially on blocking downs. Juju brings so much to this offense and one of the biggest improvements we have when he is on the field is our run blocking. He creates unique play opportunities that can not be replaced by Roger or Byrant(he too has a unique skill set).

    Hope McDonald has a big game and hope Eli can come up clutch on third downs. For some reason, I had alot more confidence in Rogers last year. Hopefully, he can turn back the clocks and be the player that he all know that he has the potential to be.