The Pittsburgh Steelers snapped a three-game losing streak on Sunday, October 10 with a Week 5 victory over the Denver Broncos. While the game added a notch in the win column, it feels much more like a loss.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Twitter that star wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is expected to be sidelined for four months, which would end his season.
On the first play of the fifth drive, midway through the second quarter, Smith-Schuster went in motion on a jet sweep, taking the handoff from Ben Roethlisberger. He was tackled hard, yet cleanly, by Broncos safety Kareem Jackson.
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Jackson undercut Smith-Schuster’s legs on the tackle, and during the collision, Smith-Schuster’s right arm/shoulder area took a nasty blow.
Following the play, Jackson celebrated and flexed his muscles at the Heinz Field fans. Unbeknownst to Jackson, Smith-Schuster was still down on the ground behind him, writhing in pain.
“You talked about how violent he could be; there’s an example,” said Steelers-Broncos announcer Brandon Gaudin of Jackson.
The visible pain on the face of the usually-smiling Smith-Schuster spoke volumes: The injury was dire.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game that Smith-Schuster was sent to the hospital for evaluation. According to Schefter, the receiver will undergo surgery this week.
It’s unlikely that official word about Smith-Schuster will come out before Tomlin’s weekly press conference, which will be Tuesday, October 12, broadcast live on Steelers.com and the Pittsburgh Steelers YouTube channel.
Impact of JuJu-Less Receiver Corps
The injury bug has bitten each of the Steelers receivers in some fashion already this season. Smith-Schuster was already dealing with bruised ribs, which vastly affected his performance versus the Green Bay Packers.
First up, though, was Diontae Johnson with a knee injury that occurred toward the end of their loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. Johnson made it out to be more serious than it was, but it did keep him out of Pittsburgh’s cataclysmic matchup with the rival Cincinnati Bengals.
Next, Chase Claypool missed Week 4 with a hamstring injury, and then it was James Washington’s turn with a groin; he was inactive versus Denver.
Groin injuries, which have plagued the Steelers locker room, can be tricky to recover from fully, but hopefully, Washington will be ready to go for Pittsburgh’s Week 6 battle with the visiting Seattle Seahawks. His talents will be needed now more than ever with Smith-Schuster out of the lineup.
Smith-Schuster’s on-field presence will be deeply missed by teammates and Steelers fans alike, but he hasn’t made much of an impact statistically this season (129 yards, one rushing touchdown).
In fact, he’s only had one 100+ yard game in the three seasons since Antonio Brown was kicked to the curb. He had a flurry of them — eight to be exact (per Pro Football Reference) — during what would be Antonio Brown’s final season in the Black and Gold in 2018.
Where to Next?
Much to the surprise of NFL media and Steelers faithful, Pittsburgh signed Smith-Schuster to a one-year contract this off-season. He tested the free-agent market but ultimately decided he was better off staying “at home” due to the 2021 NFL salary cap nightmare.
While Smith-Schuster was offered more money to play for teams like the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs, contracts were for only one season, giving him no stability.
It’s tough to predict where Smith-Schuster will end up next, but it’s safe to say it won’t be in Pittsburgh. With the 2022 salary cap ceiling set at $208 million, options should be plenty. His talents in the passing game and as a blocker are rare and could be useful just about anywhere in the NFL.