Steelers’ Mike Tomlin: Stats don’t tell story of JuJu Smith-Schuster
JuJu Smith-Schuster is on pace statistically for a season that resembles his rookie year and not a progression from 2018 when he had 111 catches, 1,426 yards and made the Pro Bowl.
As long as the Pittsburgh Steelers keep winning games — and they will try for their fourth in a row Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams — coach Mike Tomlin isn’t complaining with what he is getting from his third-year wide receiver.
“How he has done and (has done) relative to statistics are probably two different things,” Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly press conference.
With the departure of All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown, Smith-Schuster became the top target for defensive coordinators to dissect in stopping the Steelers passing game. That meant more matchups against top cornerbacks and the type of double coverage that Brown routinely received.
Smith-Schuster’s challenge became greater when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was lost to a season-ending elbow injury six quarters into the season.
Against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, Smith-Schuster had just three receptions for 16 yards. It was the third time in five games that he had three or fewer catches and was held under 20 yards. This Sunday, he likely will be paired against cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who Tomlin called the best cover corner in the NFL.
“I have no issues with how he has handled himself in some of those matchups,” Tomlin said. “Statistics might not tell the story because of a lot of things going on around him. I like his work. I like his professionalism. I like how he wins his one-on-ones. Hopefully, it’s a catalyst for us getting more traction and consistently moving the ball offensively.”
At the midpoint of the season, Smith-Schuster leads the Steelers with 33 catches, 459 yards and three touchdown catches. Factored over a 16-game schedule, his numbers would be on par with his 2017 production: 58 catches, 917 yards and seven touchdowns.
Smith-Schuster, of course, would fall about 50 catches and 500 yards short of his 2018 numbers when he had Roethlisberger throwing passes and Brown serving as the No. 1 receiver.
“I’m a hungry guy. I want to help out the team as much as possible,” Smith-Schuster said Sunday. “At the end of the day, if we’re winning, you really can’t complain about that.”
Without Roethlisberger, the Steelers have taken a conservative approach with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, emphasizing checkdowns to running backs and short attempts to the tight ends and receivers. Not surprisingly, the Steelers rank No. 29 in receiving yards and are No. 30 with 9.8 receiving yards per play.
“We’ve dealt with some unique circumstances in terms of player availability and it dictates that our personality is adjusted accordingly,” Tomlin said. “When we gain some traction in terms of player availability, maybe we can start talking about (getting the receivers more involved). Meanwhile, we better do what we can do with what we have available to us in an effort to win the game.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .