The Pittsburgh Steelers had their nifty winning streak snapped at the hands of the Denver Broncos in week 12, and after their 24-17 loss the team now has to turn the page quickly before they host the red-hot Los Angeles Chargers at Heinz Field in Week 13.
Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we take a look at whether JuJu Smith-Schuster’s success as a professional is based solely around the attention Antonio Brown attracts from the defense, or if Smith-Schuster is far more than that...maybe a budding superstar in the making?
Let’s get to the news:
Kevin Gorman: Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster shooting to superstardom
By: Kevin Gorman, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
JuJu Smith-Schuster never dreamt of catching 97-yard touchdown passes in back-to-back seasons, but NFL stardom was always part of the plan for the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver.
Smith-Schuster is achieving his goals faster than even he could have imagined. Not only has JuJu already bested his rookie totals for receptions and yards, but he leads the AFC with 77 catches and eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving goal he set before his second season.
JuJu showed his charm and charisma extends beyond being a social-media maven Thursday, as the 22-year-old talked about wanting to win a Super Bowl and building his brand globally.
“I just want to make it as big as possible, in a positive way,” Smith-Schuster said, “to influence younger kids and as many people as possible outside of the states.”
JuJu already has an endorsement from a Steelers superstar.
Ben Roethlisberger called Smith-Schuster “reliable, dependable and trustworthy” this week, saying he wished he would have thrown the ball to JuJu on four straight plays on the final drive in Denver. But the Steelers quarterback took it a step further Thursday, saying Smith-Schuster deserves league-wide recognition for his play.
“I think he’s rising fast, and I would think he’s a Pro Bowl guy,” Roethlisberger said. “He’ll get a lot of fan votes because the fans love him, but I don’t know if he’s got the name like (DeAndre) Hopkins or AB (Antonio Brown) … but he absolutely should.
“He’s making plays. He’s doing it all. He’s where he’s supposed to be. All of those things are great, but he also benefits from having that guy across the field from him, too. But he works. It’s not like it’s being given to him, just because teams are doubling AB. He’s still got to beat his guy.”
Smith-Schuster did that in prime time at Heinz Field, scoring a 75-yard touchdown on the Steelers’ first play against Carolina. He did it again with his 97-yard catch-and-run at Denver, matching the mark set last year at Detroit for longest play in franchise history.
If all of the adulation sounds like it could go to Smith-Schuster’s head, take comfort in knowing he still has the good sense to dismiss talk of supplanting Brown as the Steelers’ top receiver by saying he eats off the plate of the four-time All-Pro receiver. Not to mention Smith-Schuster also adds levity to the locker room, especially when asked about Roethlisberger calling out receivers Brown and rookie James Washington earlier this week.
“Us receivers, they call us ‘divas’ — I don’t know why, I can’t see that,” Smith-Schuster said, drawing laughter by flashing a sly smile and batting his eyelashes, “but we have to learn how to take criticism. We have to learn to be better, not only for ourselves but for the team.”
What the Steelers love is how Smith-Schuster plays football “above the neck,” a nod to his cerebral approach. Roethlisberger called Smith-Schuster “very smart,” noting he knows every route tree and can line up in the slot or on the outside, as he increasingly has in the Steelers’ past two games. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner is impressed by how Smith-Schuster “has a lot of very interesting comments between series about what he feels and sees,” a special trait for a second-year receiver.
“He’s very intelligent,” Fichtner said. “He sees things in-game. … He’s been able to take advantage of situations, quite honestly. When you’re going to rotate coverage to Antonio — and a lot of people have to do that — somebody better make those plays alongside him.”
Roethlisberger revealed Smith-Schuster’s suggestions aren’t always self-serving.
“He’ll come to me and say, ‘Hey, Ben, I think we can get them on this play,’ ” Roethlisberger said. “Usually, when guys tell you that, it’s a play where they’re going to get open. But he’ll tell me that he thinks this play will work, and it’s not necessarily designed for him.”
Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster: Success comes from Antonio Brown diversion
By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Ben Roethlisberger won’t commit to Antonio Brown holding his longtime role as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ No. 1 receiver . But the player who might have passed Brown for that distinction will.
JuJu Smith-Schuster has more catches and receiving yards this season than Brown. But Brown’s second-year teammate attributed his success to the attention Brown draws from opposing defenses.
“Obviously, he’s been here for (nine) years,” Smith-Schuster said of Brown. “He’s getting double teamed, triple teamed. It’s hard, you know? But he still makes his plays, and he still has the explosive plays that he’s making.
“And for me to be a young guy, me and (running back James Conner) and some of the other guys are being able to eat off his plate because of what he’s done in the past.”
Brown between 2013-17 had the most catches in NFL history of any player over a five-year span. But although he is in the top 14 in both categories this season, his 71 receptions and 974 yards rank second on the team to Smith-Schuster’s 77 and 1,055.
No player, though, has more touchdown receptions than Brown’s 11, and only Tyreek Hill has more catches of 40-plus yards in the NFL this season than Brown’s five. Smith-Schuster is tied for sixth in the league with four such explosive catches.
“He’s helped me out a lot,” Smith-Schuster said. “We always talk about just making each other better. Every day I go out and practice, I try and be the best I can be on the field, competing against him.
“When it comes to gameday, it’s just we all talk about, ‘It’s G.O.A.T. time.’ It’s time, ‘The G.O.A.T. comes alive,’ ” Smith-Schuster said. “You make your plays, on both sides. And we’ve seen it work.”
G.O.A.T. is an acronym for “greatest of all time.” And Brown, statistically at least, has a something of a stake to such a grandiose claim, at least for a receiver through age 30. That’s led to speculation that Brown might resent that Smith-Schuster could be the cusp of eclipsing him in the hierarchy of Steelers’ offense already.
Not so, Smith-Schuster said.
“There’s no consideration about me having better numbers than AB,” Smith-Schuster said.
J.J. Watt to younger brothers Derek and T.J.: No cut-blocks
By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN
Daily competitors at home and in the weight room back in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Houston Texans star pass-rusher J.J. Watt has had an up-close look at the dust ups between younger brothers Derek and T.J. Watt.
Now, J.J. Watt will have a prime seat in front of his TV to watch both brothers face off on the field when the Los Angeles Chargers travel to play the Pittsburgh Steelers in a nationally televised game Sunday night.
”We were just talking about it in the group text the other day and I basically just said, no cut-blocks,” J.J. Watt told reporters in Houston. “That’s the only thing. Just don’t go at his knees. Otherwise, everything’s fair.
”It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch. I hope there’s at least one play where they have to -- Derek has to block T.J. straight up and we can settle it once and for all and we’ll see, but it will be cool.”
Derek and T.J. Watt played at Wisconsin together, where T.J., 24, moved from tight end to outside linebacker and Derek stayed on offense at fullback. Two years older than T.J., Derek said the two butted heads in practice at times, but never during an all-out live session.
Derek Watt, 26, said the entire family will be in Pittsburgh for the game on Sunday.
A sixth-round selection by the Chargers in the 2016 draft, Derek Watt blocked for running back mate Melvin Gordon at Wisconsin. He has played 100 offensive snaps this season, serving as a lead blocker for one of the most potent rushing attacks in the NFL.
In his second NFL season, younger brother T.J. Watt has totaled 50 tackles, 10 sacks and four forced fumbles on the year.
”We’ve been talking,” Derek Watt said. “We’ve already been on FaceTime twice in the early part of the week, and it’s been pretty normal. We also talk and keep up in a group chat and all that stuff.
”There hasn’t been much smack talk. I know a lot of people have been asking about that. It’s more typical brother stuff. We know what’s happening this weekend. I’m going to see him and my family out there before the game, so it will be a good buildup to a big game.”