Last year, after the Pittsburgh Steelers’ heartbreaking loss to the New England Patriots in Week 15 at Heinz Field, I received an email from a follower of the site asking me to take a look back at the JuJu Smith-Schuster catch-and-run in the waning minutes of the game.
The reader asked one question, “What if JuJu didn’t cut back into the middle of the field?”
At the time I was too disgusted to really want to go back and look, but I try to respond to all emails sent to me regarding the website. So I went back and looked, and I’ll be damned if this reader didn’t have a point.
Take a look at the play below, but don’t get enamored with the play itself. Watch the point where Smith-Schuster goes by the blocking Le’Veon Bell and has a decision to make:
Do I cut it inside, or stay along the sideline and use my blocker, Jesse James, to help me get as much yardage as possible before going out of bounds.
He decides to cut it inside, and we all know what ensued afterwards, but what if JuJu would have stayed to the outside with James as a blocker?
If you have to, watch the play again and focus on the :51 second mark of the video. Now, let’s set the stage for what could have happened.
With under a minute left and only one timeout remaining, down by a field goal, the worst-case scenario for Smith-Schuster, if he stayed along the sideline, would have been he was forced out of bounds and wouldn’t have gotten the offense down to the 10-yard line, as he did by cutting the play inside.
While sacrificing the extra yardage, what would have then happened is the Steelers would have already been well inside Chris Boswell’s, and they would have been able to keep their lone timeout in their pocket, which they ended up burning while the team got to the football and clocked the ball. So, instead of 1st and goal from the 10-yard line with :34 left and no timeouts, the team might have been facing a 1st and 10 from the 20-yard line with 1 timeout and :34, or more, left on the clock.
Talk about a different scenario.
Now, before you rush to the comment section to berate me, realize I’m not suggesting Smith-Schuster should have had the foresight to see what could have taken place. He not only was a rookie in the biggest game of his career, but in the heat of the moment not everyone is thinking about logistics — he was trying to score and win the game.
However, when you watch the play you have to wonder what if he would have stayed along the sideline and, at worst, was forced out of bounds? Would the Steelers have had better plays called than the out route pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey which forced a hurry up situation resulting in Ben Roethlisberger’s game-clinching interception while trying to force the football to Eli Rogers?
A lot of what ifs there, but it makes you realize how one decision can alter the football game, and some might say the Steelers’ season. As always, let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.