Smith-Schuster Must Take Advantage of Opportunity

Second round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster made his NFL debut on Sunday, but it wasn’t exactly the most memorable. Smith-Schuster was called for two early holding calls that stalled Steelers drives before they even were able to start.

It was 1st down and 10 for the Steelers. They had just blocked a punt, recovering it for a touchdown, then forced the Browns to punt again on their following drive. It was a chance to take control of the game and never look back. Then came the penalties. Smith-Schuster was called on the first play for holding. Two plays later it was Vance McDonald caught holding. They lost 7 yards and had to punt it back to Cleveland from deep inside their own territory.

Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger always script the firt 10-15 plays of a game. They are usually the plays Roethlisberger feels most comfortable with, and plays that have worked throughout the week of practice. The penalties forced them to change their plan.

“The third and fourth plays were run plays but when you get penalties and get backed up, you aren’t going to run the ball on second-and-20,” Roethlisberger said. “You have to find ways to get some chunks back.”

That drive dictated how the rest of the game would go for the Steelers. Le’Veon Bell would never have the opportunity to get into a rhythm, only rushing for 32 yards on ten carries. That left the Steelers one dimensional and forced to lean on the pass.

Now, even though Bell is a premier back there will be more days when Bell isn’t able to find running room. They will be forced to be one dimensional again, but if they’re able to use the pass effectively then it will open the run back up for Bell.

That’s where Smith-Schuster has to step up. A set that included 4 true wide receivers and one tight end found its way onto the field nine times on Sunday. It was Smith-Schuster replacing Bell who often was used as a wide receiver in this formation last season.

“Having JuJu and Eli out there gives us a different dynamic,” Darrius Heyward-Bey said. “It puts teams in uncomfortable situations. Linebackers have to guard receivers. I think we’re going to do more of that. We have the guys capable of doing those things.”

“There are going to be times when we don’t have 26 in there and we still need to have positive plays,” Heyward-Bey said.

Bell was leaned on last season with Martavis Bryant suspended, Markus Wheaton injured, and Heyward-Bey missing several games. Towards the end of the season Bell was playing 99 percent of the offensive snaps. It may have not been a direct cause of Bell’s injury that forced him out of the AFC Championship game, but it surely didn’t help. Keeping him fresh for the playoffs has to be on Mike Tomlin’s mind.

“Of course, of course, I want to be out there every play,” Bell said Wednesday. “However they plan to use me, I’ll be available. I want to put everything on the line when I am in the game and do the best I can. I’m just going to play in the scheme and do whatever the game plan says. I’m going to go out and execute it to the best of my ability. When the opportunities present themselves, I’m going to go out there and make plays.”

Smith-Schuster must take advantage of the opportunity.

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