As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the Seattle Seahawks in Week 6 on Sunday Night Football, the offense is faced with another challenge. No, not Jamal Adams, but trying to figure out what they will do without JuJu Smith-Schuster in the lineup.
It is a well-known fact Smith-Schuster hasn’t had his best statistical season of his career, but don’t confuse that with not being a huge part of the team’s offense. Thursday offensive coordinator Matt Canada spoke about the Steelers’ offense heading into Sunday’s game, but also about all that Smith-Schuster does to help the offense.
“My feelings for JuJu are so off the charts, and they have been because we need somebody to block, he says, “I’ll do it.” We need somebody to do it, he says, “I’ll do it.” It would be unfair to compare anybody else because it would sound like it was a negative about somebody else.” Canada said about the veteran receiver. “We’ve got guys that can do certain things. We’ve got to find who can do that. Trust and all those things. The years with him and Ben [Roethlisberger] that come over time, we’ve got to work to find that.”
The million dollar question for Steelers fans everywhere has been wondering who will take Smith-Schuster’s reps in the slot, as well as who will get his targets moving forward. Canada was quick to suggest the Steelers won’t be replacing Smith-Schuster.
“We’re not going to replace him at all. What he brings to our team and the intangibles he has—I’ve talked about him before— it’s a huge loss to us, non-football-wise to me: everything he does, everything he is, how hard he plays. As far as his catches and those things, we’ll spread those out throughout personnel sets, throughout game plans over the course of the season. We’ll just see how that goes.”
After that answer Canada was pressed about who might line up in the slot. Will it be Chase Claypool? James Washington? Diontae Johnson? Tight ends or running backs? According to Canada, every game is different.
“Every game’s a little bit different. It’s all about matchups, which is nothing new.” Canada said. “You guys all know that in football at any level and certainly at this level. However, we get to that, we’ll try to find it.”
The Steelers have two tight ends in Pat Freiermuth and Eric Ebron who are certainly capable of catching the football, and when you throw in Zach Gentry as a blocking tight end, the possibilities are endless.
“Two tight ends are certainly effective.” Canada said about the offensive approach. “It could happen based on who we play, based on what we’re trying to do, and based on JuJu being out. I think our tight ends have come along.
“[Zach] Gentry, obviously, has improved. Had a nice catch, had a nice play. Everybody wants the ball more; everybody wants to be more involved. That’s part of what happens when you have as much talent as we have on the edge. Pat [Freiermuth]’s coming on, doing a great job. [Eric] Ebron’s a guy that’s done a lot where he’s been and here in the past. We’ll continue to try to use everybody the best way we can, but all that matters is winning. We’ve got a really good offensive staff who work really hard each week to come up with what we think’s gonna do the best job. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Speaking specifically of Gentry, a player who completely rebuilt himself, figuratively and literally, he has become an important part of the Steelers’ offense in many ways.
“Well, I think he’s a big guy who can block. We think he can also be a threat in the passing game. You saw what he did when he got down the field, so we’re obviously using his skill set and trying to create matchups with all our guys in different roles. I think he’s improved. I think he’s a guy that’s put a lot of time in here long before I came around, and you can see what that work has done.” Canada added.
The Steelers will have to get creative to help cushion the blow of not having Smith-Schuster, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be impossible. In fact, keeping their plans under wraps is the best approach for Canada and his crew. Will the results pay off? Will the Steelers miss Smith-Schuster to the point where it is a detriment to the offense?
That will be evident in Week 6 when the Seahawks come to Heinz Field, so be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the upcoming matchup with the NFC West foe.