Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images
The Steelers ran their offense through their young leader.
JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 2019 season has been heavily discussed, dissected, digested and even desiccated. With the 2020 season starting, there were questions about how Smith-Schuster would rebound this year. If Week 1 is any indication, it’s going to be a good season for the 4th year receiver who is younger than two rookies the Steelers drafted in 2020.
In today’s film room I want to look at the tape showing Smith-Schuster is the most important receiver on the team still, and how a good chunk of the offense ran through him in Week 1.
2nd quarter, 9:07. JuJu Smith-Schuster is the slot receiver, second from the bottom of the screen.
This is a heavy blitz look for the Giants and all the receivers are one-on-one with defensive backs. Ben Roethlisberger makes the play here if you watch his helmet and the direction it faces through the play. When he realizes the pass rush is coming he throws an almost no-look lob to Smith-Schuster, he looks that direction as he is throwing. That’s one of the most important things JuJu Smith-Schuster brings to the Steelers as he and Roethlisberger know each other on the field far better than Ben knows any other receiver on this team, and on this play it results in a touchdown.
2nd quarter 0:29. JuJu Smith-Schuster is the slot receiver, second from the top of the screen.
The Steelers run a bit of a rub on this play, but as rookie corner Darnay Holmes runs around Eric Ebron and his defender, Smith-Schuster reverses course and is open for this 14 yard catch and run. The Steelers have a lot of big, physical targets, and that makes rub routes very effective.
2nd quarter, 0:07. JuJu Smith-Schuster is the slot receiver, second to the bottom, James Washington is outside him.
Here Smith-Schuster runs a rub for James Washington that obliterates James Bradberry’s coverage on James Washington. You can see Bradberry catching up as Washington powers across the goal line. If you look closely you can see the push Smith-Schuster gave his defender to drive him directly into Bradberry. James Washington’s incredible effort to finish the play is the highlight on this play, but the execution of this rub is also impressive.
4th quarter, 2:58. JuJu Smith-Schuster is the slot receiver, second from the bottom of the screen.
This time it is Bradberry on JuJu Smith-Schuster, and he’s had enough of the rub routes. You can see Bradberry get physical with Smith-Schuster right before Diontae Johnson crosses underneath them, and you can see Johnson’s defender run past the rub route untouched. But that’s a set up. Smith-Schuster sheds Bradberry as he jams the rub, and it’s an easy looking 2nd touchdown for the Steelers leading receiver.
Here’s another view where you can see the push better.
JuJu Smith-Schuster sells the rub, then easily creates separation and it’s an easy TD pass for his quarterback.
A good offensive game plan was executed well, and the Steelers exploited the Giants man defense with two touchdowns of rub routes. Expect to see more of these routes, especially if teams try to play man to control the match ups with the Steelers receivers through the increased motion the Steelers are using.
Smith-Schuster’s best play wasn’t either of his touchdowns, it wasn’t a result of his sharp route running or great hands, it was old fashioned hustle and heart.
3rd quarter, 2:46. JuJu Smith-Schuster is the receiver to the bottom of the screen.
JuJu Smith-Schuster starts with a good block on James Bradberry to give Benny Snell Jr. a big lane to the outside, and follows that by diving on the loose football in a pile of New York Giants and coming away with a huge fumble recovery for the Steelers.
I expect the debate over whether JuJu Smith-Schuster is a true number one receiver, as well as what a “true number one” receiver is to continue, but I’m not interested in that. JuJu Smith-Schuster makes big plays, leads the receivers in production, but he also leads by executing to set up his team mates for success, and even make big plays that don’t count in fantasy football.
In real football, Smith-Schuster is incredibly valuable, and that is plenty good enough.