By Daniel Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Steelers are on their bye week, but that doesn’t mean all has been quiet on the news front—it is the NFL, after all.
Smith-Schuster named AFC Offensive Player of the Week
Rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster produced a record-setting day for the Steelers against the Detroit Lions on Sunday. As a result, the NFL selected the 20-year-old as the AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Nov. 1. He is the first Steelers rookie to earn the honor since Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.
Against the Lions, Smith-Schuster caught seven passes for 193 yards and a touchdown. His 97-yard touchdown, which tied the franchise’s record for longest touchdown reception, occurred after he made a couple of shake and bake moves to create separation from the Lions defenders; Roethlisberger lofted perhaps his best throw of the night into his waiting hands and Smith-Schuster did the rest.
Smith-Schuster has now reeled in multiple passes in seven straight games and has scored a touchdown in consecutive games for the first time ever. Overall, he has 24 catches for 424 yards and four scores. He ranks second on the team in touchdowns and receiving yards and is third in receptions.
What’s Martavis Bryant’s role on the team?
Now that Smith-Schuster has apparently taken control of the team’s No. 2 receiver spot, it will be interesting to see what disgruntled wide receiver Martavis Bryant’s role with the team will be next week against the Indianapolis Colts. It is being reported that Bryant, who was inactive last week, will be active versus the Colts.
Jeremy Fowler of ESPN said that the Steelers told Bryant that he was part of the Week 10 game plan. Bryant is without question immensely talented, however, reliability on and off the field has been an issue. The 25-year-old has only played in 28 games in four seasons with the team, due mainly to NFL suspensions, but he has also struggled on the field. For his career, Bryant has 94 receptions on 177 targets for a 53.1% completion rate.
Bryant has caught 18 of 36 passes thrown his way for 234 yards and one touchdown this season. He also has three rushing attempts for an additional 22 yards. He is known for his speed and big play-making ability. His best game came against Minnesota when he finished with three catches for 91 yards including a 51-yard touchdown catch.
Roethlisberger, for one, believes that Bryant will be an important part of the team going forward.
“I’m excited, I think he’s going to have a great second half, I mean, I need to have a great second half, so, if we both have great second halves, I think we can be a successful offense,” Roethlisberger said.
Rookie Cam Sutton returns to practice
2017 third round draft pick Cam Sutton returned to practice this week for the first time since being placed on injured reserve on Sept. 4 with a hamstring injury. The Steelers now have 20 days to decide whether to activate the 5-foot-10 cornerback or keep him on IR. He can practice with the team during this period without counting against the 53-man roster.
“It was definitely a good feeling just being back out there, moving around with the guys,” said Sutton on Tuesday. “It felt really good. I am taking care of my body. I did a lot with the athletic training staff and in the weight room. I just have to keep that going.
“The expectation is still the same. My approach every day is still the same. Even though I was out, I am still coming to everything, still doing everything. Now it’s just going back out there and doing what I love to do.”
It is hard to image that Sutton will play this year unless injuries strike, which of course is always a possibility. Right now, the Steelers’ top trio of cornerbacks—Artie Burns, Joe Hadden and rookie Mike Hilton—are playing well. Veterans William Gay and Coty Sensabaugh currently provide depth.
The Steelers’ pass defense has been one of the best all season. However, they allowed Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to complete 27-of-45 passes for 423 yards. Still, the Steelers currently rank second in passing yards allowed at 180 a game and second in yards per attempt (6.2). Additionally, the Steelers have allowed the second fewest touchdown passes (six) and have picked off seven passes.