As if the Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season-opening loss wasn’t difficult enough, it ended in with injury added to insult.
Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, expected from the outset to be the Steelers top receiving target, limped off the field in the fourth quarter after a tackle by New England Patriots rookie Chase Winovich.
After the game, it was reported that Smith-Schuster needed X-rays and was whisked off to the room at Gillette Stadium sporting a slight limp.
Though his stats might not indicate, it was a rough season opener for JuJu to open his first year as a primary target. He had six catches for 78 yards on eight targets. But for much of the game, Smith-Schuster was shut down and frustrated by Patriots corner Stephon Gilmore who stuck to him all night.
The official diagnosis for Smith-Schuster’s injury was a toe ailment and at the outset, it doesn’t appear serious. He was one of four injuries to Steelers’ starters on the night, including center Maurkice Pouncey, Joe Haden, and T.J. Watt.
Following the game, Smith-Schuster told reporters he expects to be ready to go for Week 2. The X-rays appear only precautionary for the Steelers’ top receiver, a good sign for Pittsburgh’s offense.
A Little Extra JuJu
There’s been a big burden placed on Smith-Schuster this season in the Steelers offense as he’s tasked with being the team’s top receiving target.
It’s not like he isn’t used to an enlarged workload, as he has over 2,000 yards receiving over the course of two seasons in the NFL. Last year was his best year yet, going for 1,426 yards on 111 catches with seven touchdowns as one of the top receivers in the league.
It’s a bit different, however, this season without a guy like Antonio Brown taking some of the burden off JuJu. Now, Smith-Schuster has to deal with being covered by his opponent’s top defensive back and even trying to get open off double teams with the safety.
Against the Patriots, he struggled to get open looks against tight coverage from Stephon Gilmore and even occasionally drawing a double-team from safety Devin McCourty. Most of his yards last season came after the catch (648) meaning he’ll need to not only get open looks but also break tackles against top corners to replicate that number in 2019.
The Steelers didn’t escape New England healthy losing several key players to injury. Center Maurkice Pouncey was shaken up sustaining an ankle injury. His absence was immediately felt as the offensive line took a false start penalty as soon as he exited the game.
The Steelers pass rush struggled to contain the run without T.J. Watt, who was downgraded quickly to out with a hip injury but remained on the sideline throughout the game.
Finally, Joe Haden injured his shoulder but made his way off the field under his own power. Haden and the Steelers’ secondary was torched for over 350 yards passing by Brady and even Patriots receiver Julian Edelman who completed a pass for 32 yards on a trick play.