We’ve seen this movie before. The Steelers exit the playoffs earlier than we expected them to, which in reality is any year that they don’t win the Super Bowl. Steelers fans are spoiled rotten! The first stage of our grieving process is usually finger-pointing. However I want to celebrate a Steeler who has repeatedly proved his worth and this year unequivocally established himself as the heart and soul of the Steelers receiving corps, one JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Now this is well out of the realm of the finger pointing he has received for his TiK-Tok midfield logo dances (in other teams’ stadiums), and his misconstrued pre-Browns playoff game comment. Many “Yinzers” have been pointing their fingers at JuJu and blaming him for all Steelers’ losses since the Buffalo Bills game. This is ridiculous on many fronts.
Seriously, if the Browns need a so called “bulletin board” comment from JuJu to get fired up for their first playoff game in 18 years, God bless them. Maybe, just maybe, 18 years of futility and frustration combined with the repeated bullying over most of that span by AFC North division big-brother in the form of the Pittsburgh Steelers, built to a crescendo of Browns emotion and splash plays and Steelers’ offensive turnovers and defensive miscues.
Truth be told, JuJu backed up his talk with a monster playoff game against the Browns with 13 receptions for 157 yards and one touchdown. In fact Ben Roethlisberger targeted Smith-Schuster 19 times in the game. Why? Because JuJu is the money man of the Steelers receiving corps. In that, I mean when the chips are on the table, Roethlisberger looks for JuJu. It’s a fact that Smith-Schuster delivers in the clutch! This has been the case since midway through JuJu’s rookie season when he was just 20 years old. Ben Roethlisberger trusts JuJu like no other receiver on the Steelers’ roster.
Please let’s cut the talk of JuJu Smith-Schuster being soft because he likes to do Tik-Tok dances. Do you remember how he knocked Vontez Burfict of the Cincinnati Bengals into the middle of next week, avenging Burfict’s dirty hit, a year earlier, that concussed teammate Antonio Brown? Did you see that 10 yard stiff arm and plant of Ravens defensive back Tramon Williams? If not Google it, pronto. Did you see him step up repeatedly last Sunday night against the Browns and make plays for his team when they needed him most? He took a monster hit against the Bengals earlier this season and shook it off. No, he didn’t take that vicious hit because of his dancing, it was because of an extremely predictable short passing game that the Bengals and every other defense the Steelers faced, knew was coming. It’s hard to question JuJu’s toughness or his consistency. We haven’t seen the likes of his all around skill-set, toughness and passion since Hines Ward. Quote me on that.
JuJu Smith-Schuster cemented his lead wide receiver status with a whopping 110 receptions for 988 yards over 16 regular season games and one playoff game this year. He accomplished this while being double-teamed and being targeted, as the focal point of most opposing defensive schemes.
There’s an understanding in the NFL that players have to elevate their games in the playoffs. Check. Juju Smith-Schuster elevated his catches per game from 8.6 catches during the regular season to 13 in the playoff game vs. Cleveland. In addition, he raised his regular-season average of 52 receiving yards of per game to 157 in the playoff game against the Browns. This is what happens when Ben Roethlisberger throws deeper downfield. Lastly, one of Smith-Schuster’s best abilities during this season was availability as he played in all 16 games.
So forgive me if I’m not living in my fears. I’ve got better things to do like be appreciative of the Steelers’ future with guys like JuJu Smith-Schuster leading the team. There is no doubt the Steelers must resign him. It’s a no brainer. Smith-Schuster is the most senior Steelers’ receiver at just 24 years old. He has so much more to give to this organization. What would the Steelers do without the heart and soul of its receiving corps?